Notable victories have told the tale for the Atlantic 10 over the past few days. Fordham beat No. 21 (ESPN/USA Today) Harvard Tuesday night, and Temple upset No. 3 (ESPN/USA Today) Duke earlier this evening.
GW is not among those ranks. After snapping a seven-game losing streak against Delaware State Saturday, the Colonials dropped its opening league game at St. Bonaventure tonight, falling 66-56.
It’s the first time GW (5-9, 0-1 A-10) has lost its A-10 opener in three years, and with the league continually providing examples of its depth this season, head coach Mike Lonergan, though glad to see the “underrated” conference gain strength, is conscious of his team’s need to improve.
“All of those teams are improving and we’ve got to start improving if we even want to make the Atlantic-10 tournament,” Lonergan said. “We can have our excuses, a new system, that’s a lot of nonsense, to be honest. We have to start doing better and I have to start getting the best five players out there, nine players out there. It’s all about consistency.”
Consistency was the theme against the Bonnies – it was yet another game where the Colonials played seemingly two different halves of basketball. GW entered tonight averaging 6.3 more points and shooting 9.3 percentage points higher in the second. The pattern repeated itself glaringly tonight, the team jumping to a 36.4 percentage from the field in the first to shooting 51.9 percent in the second.
It was in play after the break that GW came its closest to walking away with the victory. After entering halftime down 15 points, the Colonials used a 15-1 run over five minutes in the second to pull within 41-36. The team is struggling to follow its game plan in the first half, Lonergan said, and by the time they rebound in the second, GW is too tired to complete a comeback.
“I think that we’re not doing a good job in the first half for whatever reason. Mostly defensively,” Lonergan said. “Now, we’re getting down way too early by way too much. “
The clearest example of a breakdown in GW’s plan came over the opening minutes of play. After freshman forward John Kopriva hit a jumper to begin the game, St. Bonaventure sophomore forward Andrew Nicholson went on a 7-0 run, solo. The Colonials’ scouting report was meant to limit Nicholson’s effectiveness, Lonergan said, but the plan broke down immediately. Though the Bonnies big man sat down with foul trouble later on in the first half, he returned to add eight more points on the game.
The Colonials struggled to shut Nicholson and the Bonnies down defensively, St. Bonaventure keeping GW at an arm’s length for most of play. They posted a 53.5 shooting percentage on the night, complementing that with an 83.3 percentage from the line and 41.7 percent shooting from deep. The Colonials slipped in and out of a 1-3-1 zone and man defense throughout the game, trying to find an answer for their guarding woes and defensive struggles.
“We were down, and we tried to play the 1-3-1, but we just didn’t have the energy and we had to give up. Then at the end of the game, we had to get back in it,” Lonergan said. “[Junior guard] Lasan Kromah, to his credit, does a good job in that. But that’s a gimmie defense we’re relying on too much because we have to hide some of our guys who can’t guard.”
Though GW’s shooting markedly improved from the field after the break, it wasn’t supplemented by equal success from the line or from the perimeter. The Colonials made just 64.7 percent of their shots from the charity stripe- but could barely make double-digits from three-point range. GW recorded just 12.5 percent shooting from deep, a trend of poor three shooting that has recently haunted a team that was once the highest three-point percentage program in the country.
“It’s just frustrating because it just seems like some guys finally have good games and other guys have really bad games. We definitely have to shoot the ball better,” Lonergan said. “I don’t know if it’s mental toughness, what it is, but we’ve got to.”
It was junior Dwanye Smith who was the highlight on GW’s night- Lonergan called the forward’s play “his best game” of the season. Smith recorded ten points and displayed commanding defense, pulling down four boards, slamming home a block and grabbing three steals. Senior guard Tony Taylor posted 11 points of his own, also earning six rebounds. No other Colonial recorded double-digits, Kromah recording just a single point on the night.
GW struggled with ball control, especially in the first half, where it earned just seven rebounds and turned control over 13 times. At the beginning of play, the Bonnies forced back-to-back shot clock violations on Colonial possessions, and St. Bonaventure ensured its lead after GW’s brief comeback with a 10-5 scoring run in the second. It’s the sort of breakdowns Lonergan knows his team can ill afford, and their offensive struggles has lead him to readjust his normal flex offense.
“To be honest with you, we didn’t run the flex tonight. We don’t have the awareness on the court,” Lonergan said. “It’s just the breakdowns we’ve had, and we’ve got to stop having those.”
The Colonials continue their A-10 road trip with a visit to Saint Louis, another league opponent that’s proven its strength this season. With tip slated for 8 p.m Jan. 7, Lonergan said his team is focused on cutting down on what he sees as crippling mental failures on the court.
“We’re just hurting ourselves with a lot of mistakes,” Lonergan said. “That’s something we need to improve on. We make a lot of mental mistakes out there. And we can’t afford to do that.”