NEW YORK – As his shot ricocheted into a scramble for the rebound, senior guard Tony Taylor sank to the floor.
Just seconds before, Taylor had pulled up for a crucial open three, releasing an arching ball without tearing his eyes away from the net. The shot clanged off the rim, and with four seconds left, Taylor knew the game was over.
He dropped to a crouch, head in his hands, getting back up only to bend over again. It was a gut-wrenching miss, the kind that forces the bottom to drop out of a player’s stomach. Junior guard Lasan Kromah walked across the court, pulling his captain back to his feet with a steadying hand on Taylor’s shoulder.
“Coach drew up a great play, gave me the ball and I just thought I was going to make it,” Taylor said. “It just hurt me a lot. I just missed the shot that could have tied the game up and gone to overtime.”
Taylor’s shot was the final salvo in a rally that started after a media timeout with just under six minutes to play. Down seven, the Colonials (8-13) returned to the court to embark on a 7-0 run, tying the game at 51 off junior forward Dwayne Smith’s driving layup.
“I think we just realized that there was five, six minutes left and we have to bring our best effort and play as hard as we can and try to get a run,” sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic said.
The teams traded baskets, tying once more at 53 and then again at 55. But a slew of late fouls sent Fordham to the line for valuable points, and the Colonials were stuffed on their last chances of the game.
When the buzzer sounded on the five-point defeat, GW exited the court dropping its fourth straight A-10 road game, yet to win a league match away from the Smith Center this season.
“I thought we were going to be a little better in the first half. I didn’t expect to be down, chasing them the whole game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “They did a good job. We battled all the way back. It takes a lot of energy to take the lead, and then they come right back down and just drive on us and get a three-point play out of it.”
There were pockets of strong defense from the Colonials Saturday afternoon, highlighted by an aggressive man-to-man effort that GW switched into after starting the day in a full-court press. On a few possessions, junior guard Bryan Bynes forced his man to backtrack to the halfcourt mark. On others, the Rams couldn’t get around the Colonials for open looks and were forced to hand the ball over as the shot clock sounded.
GW’s pressure translated into sloppy play from Fordham, who turned it over 21 times and allowed the Colonials to snag 10 steals on the day. GW converted those turnovers into 33 points, but it wasn’t enough to cement a victory.
“We’ve got to get other guys to understand that defense and rebounding are really what is going to win games. And effort. And we gave effort today, we’ve just got to put the ball in the basket, too. I’m disappointed for Tony, because he’s from here, and he played today,” Lonergan said. “I’m his biggest critic at times. He’s our best player – he should be one of the best players in the league – but today he played. And that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
It was another game where lackluster shooting doomed the Colonials, who shot just 33.3 percent from the floor on the game. The team had slightly better luck from beyond the arc – shooting 45 percent from the perimeter, but stepping outside the arc alone couldn’t make up for 19-of-57 shooting, a continuation of GW’s tendencies to go cold on the road.
Playing his last collegiate game in his home state, Taylor was the team’s most successful shooter, adding 17 points and dishing out seven assists. His offensive dominance was so clear, Lonergan said, that the game plan became one the Colonials are familiar with: Get it to Taylor.
“At halftime, he had two shots. I thought he played very well, he had a couple assists. And truthfully, he would have had more assists, guys dropping balls, missing layups. I look, somebody’s 0-for-5, somebody’s 2-for-7, you know, you’ve got to be selfish. He looked like he had it today,” Lonergan said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to take at least 10 shots in the second half.’ ”
Taylor wasn’t the only Colonial to hit double-digits: Kromah put up 13 points, pulling down four boards, and Mikic netted 12, sinking four three-pointers that were crucial to keeping GW in the game. More telling for Lonergan, though, was Mikic’s team-high seven rebounds. Though a sign of the forward’s defensive improvement, the head coach allowed, it also spoke to the Rams’ dominance in the post.
Rebounding is the cornerstone of Lonergan’s game plan, and when the team is successful, its players trace victories back to one key aspect: beating an opponent on the boards. But it was Fordham who exerted its might under the net Saturday, besting the Colonials in rebounds 44-24. The Rams tightly controlled the low post and kept GW to just 20 points in the paint, holding the team to six in the first half.
“Missing layups and getting killed on the boards is really the story of the game,” Lonergan said. “I don’t know, we just have to get tougher as a team, especially on the road. But it’s really hard to even stay in a game when you’re not battling in there. That’s the whole game.”
Though the furious rally put forth late by the Colonials kept the score close, the Rams’ shooting was far and above that of GW, posting a 46.8 shooting percentage on the game. When it came down to the wire, Lonergan said, Fordham just played harder. His team didn’t hold a lead until the final minutes of the game, and it scored just five points off the bench over 40 minutes of play.
It was a game that could have vaulted the Colonials to the top of the A-10 standings, but instead they left with a narrow defeat that visibly deflated the team as it exited the court.
“I feel terrible,” Taylor said. “You know, we lost. That was my only goal of the game, to get a win in front of the home crowd. And we just came up short today.”