Richmond, Va. – The Colonial bench erupted Saturday as junior forward David Pellom turned toward the small but energetic contingent of GW fans at the Robins Center, throwing up his hands and calling for more noise to celebrate his team taking the lead against the Spiders.
But the bench full of Pellom’s teammates and coaches weren’t celebrating his assist to senior forward Aaron Ware. They were screaming at the enthusiastic player to get his head back in the game that had only a minute and 16 seconds to go. GW needed the game’s top scorer to maintain his focus to ensure the Spiders didn’t creep back into the lead, which had already changed hands 16 times throughout the course of play.
Ware’s go-ahead reverse layup brought the score to 66-64 GW, and the combination of taking the lead and Pellom’s energy allowed the Colonials to up their physicality for the last 70 seconds of the already rough game. The layup started a late-scoring rally saw the Colonials grab their first Atlantic 10 road victory of the season, beating Richmond 69-67.
“It feels good you know, we’ve improved lately. We just haven’t had anything to show for it,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’m happy for my guys.”
The contest was tight, and saw nine ties, despite GW’s offensive dominance on the day. The Colonials came out shooting in the first, recording a 57.9 percentage from the field and going 50 percent from the three-point line. Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic opened the game with a long trey in the first 30 seconds of play, an early boost for GW that marked the beginning of a back-and-forth first half.
Though the Colonials were able to keep their success at the basket in the first half high with well-timed jumpers and solid possessions off the boards, Richmond entered the second half with a marginal one-point lead.
In a game that became increasingly physical as time went on, Richmond was able to make up for its difficulties from the field at the charity stripe. Despite only recording a 37.0 shooting percentage on the first, the Spiders made 83.3 percent of their shots from the line, markedly better than GW’s 60 percent free throw success. That difference, combined with Richmond’s 14-12 edge on rebounds in the first, was enough to keep the Spiders in the game.
The physical game was marked by fouls. For the Colonials, graduate student forward Jabari Edwards, junior guard Bryan Bynes, senior guard Tony Taylor and junior forward Dwayne Smith all tallied three. After fouling out at Temple, Taylor said he was working on trusting his team to be aggressive – a role he said he proudly plays for the Colonials – so he is not at risk of leaving the game.
“It’s really tough and it’s hard to explain. I guess I have to be less aggressive and just smarter when I’m trying to play defensive,” Taylor said. “I also gotta trust my teammates a lot more so I don’t have to do a lot of dribbling because a lot of guys are really keen on me to try and get me out of the game.”
Taylor’s foul trouble put pressure on the Colonials, forcing the guard to play only eight minutes in the first half, compared to the game against Temple, where he clocked 19 minutes in the first. It also shifted momentum to the Spiders who converted chances at the line and used the opportunity to build off of GW’s best player being relegated to the bench.
Lonergan said while fouls are part of the game, Taylor’s status as the offensive catalyst for the Colonials means the guard can illafford to rack up fouls in the first.
“You know Bryan did a decent job there, but he got in foul trouble too, and we really have no one else who can handle the ball,” Lonergan said on Taylor’s two fouls in the first half. “It’s a learning experience and hopefully you know against Saint Joe’s he doesn’t get in foul trouble. This is judgment and you can’t really teach judgment. You can’t put yourself in those types of positions to get those types of fouls.”
The Colonials came out shooting in the second, again claiming the first points of the half when Smith scored a layup after Taylor grabbed a board and set up the ensuing basket.
But Richmond dominated the early part of the second, improving their shooting to 46.4 percent from 37 percent in the first and continuing their success at the free throw line by going a perfect 9 for 9 from the stripe. The Spiders backed up their improved shooting with a renewed defensive effort that dropped the Colonials three-point shooting percentage to 20 percent.
But the real asset of the Spiders was sophomore forward Derrick Williams. The Colonials were unable to stop Williams from scoring 21 points alone – almost one-third of the team’s total points.
“He is just so strong, we really don’t have anyone to match up on him,” Lonergan said. “We tried to come back with Jabari late in the game, and Williams scored five-straight points against him. It was just difficult, and that’s why we switched back into the zone. He’s built like a football player, he’s just so strong.”
GW switched its defense between a man-to-man approach and a 1-3-1 zone, seeking an answer to Williams’ play. While it wasn’t always successful against the forward, the Colonials were able to limit Richmond’s top three scorers, junior guard Darien Brothers, freshman guard Kendall Anthony and sophomore guard Cedrick Lindsay, who missed 21 of 26 combined attempts.
Two players for the Colonials underlined the team’s defensive effort. Smith was again GW’s main presence in the paint, commanding space under the net with 14 points and three rebounds and slamming back one block. But it was Pellom’s energetic play that motivated the Colonials during the last few minutes of play. In addition to pacing the team offensively, he also pulled down five boards and dished out that crucial assist.
“I’ve always been a high energy guy. I bring momentum to everyone and the dunks just set us off a little more,” Pellom said. “I just kept telling Tony at every timeout, we are going to get closer and closer, and they are letting us back in, and we’re going to come back out on top.”
As the Colonials returned to Foggy Bottom, they had snapped an eight game road slide and gained valuable momentum from the hard-fought victory
“We like it, we like to play physical. It was good for us. We just like to play physical, box out and get rebounds. We like those types of games, those dogfight games,” Taylor said. “I think we did a pretty good job.”
The win takes GW to 4-7 in conference play and keeps them decisively ahead of Rhode Island and Fordham in their quest to make the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Perhaps more importantly, the victory tied the Colonials with Richmond for 11th place in the conference, the tiebreaker going to GW because of the team’s sweep of Richmond on the season.
Elizabeth Traynor contributed to this report