There was one question that couldn’t be answered for the Colonials Wednesday night in Charlotte.
That question came after the game, after the Colonials exited the court dropping a crucial A-10 contest to Charlotte, 72-62, a team GW defeated soundly earlier in the season. And this question wasn’t easily resolved: Where did the Colonials fall flat?
Really, head coach Mike Lonergan said, the problem was that the Colonials didn’t have an answer for Charlotte Wednesday night. It was a breakdown on both ends that kept GW from ever fully taking command of the game.
“We’ve been a poor defensive team all year, and we’ve been a poor road team,” Lonergan said. “We just really struggled to score. It was great that we played well early, but we had to get the lead on the road here. And we didn’t get the lead.”
Charlotte earned a big chunk of its offensive power off of multiple scoring runs, using back-to-back small runs to earn a slim lead at the end of the first. And Charlotte exploded for an 18-3 run later in the second half that halted any chance of a Colonial comeback.
GW has battled the devastating effect of opponents’ scoring runs all season, and those effects hadn’t been as pronounced in recent weeks. It’s a particularly disheartening challenge to see return, senior guard Tony Taylor said, because of its overall effect on the team.
“It’s very frustrating. It really hurts our team when we’re doing well and the other team just goes on a big scoring run, and then we don’t score,” Taylor said. “That really hurts us.”
Contributing to the 49ers’ long stretches of scoring was the Colonials’ difficulty in hanging onto the ball. GW had 17 turnovers on the night – the majority of which were unforced – signs of a team struggling to maintain possession, a team made frantic and sloppy by a widening gap in the score. It was hard to tell what caused the other; the team’s failure to execute or its inability to maintain solid possession on the ball.
“We’re coming off a season-low six turnovers against Saint Joe’s, I wish I knew. We’re throwing the ball out of bounds, some of them, Charlotte, playing good D, but they weren’t really pressing. We threw the ball out of bounds,” Lonergan said.
The turnovers translated into significant shooting struggles for GW. But the Colonials remained in contention through the opening of the second. Quick buckets from junior guard Bryan Bynes and junior forward Dwayne Smith made up for the five-point halftime deficit. But GW couldn’t push a second-half lead past a single point.
Three points was the largest lead they would hold in the game. After opening the half with an improved scoring presence, GW’s shooting again went cold, exiting the game shooting 40 percent. Charlotte mixed up its defense, switching between a 2-3 zone and a man-to-man scheme, but GW was prepared for the variety, Taylor said.
“We don’t shoot very well, and the missed shots combined with struggling defensively to guard them kept us from getting back in the game,” Lonergan said.
On the road, the Colonials failed to replicate the weighty defensive presence they had shown in their home matchup against the 49ers earlier this season. Aided by its dynamic scoring runs, Charlotte shot 46.8 percent from the floor on the night.
Charlotte junior forward Chris Braswell again proved to be the Achilles’ heel for GW, lighting them up for 19 points. Against the 49ers Jan. 21, the Colonials switched from a man defense into a 1-3-1 zone, looking to contain the powerful center. Wednesday, GW made the same play, moving into its zone as Braswell continued to best the Colonials in the post.
Though GW was able to halt his production – holding Braswell to just four points in the second half – the defensive trade-off wasn’t as successful against the rest of Charlotte’s roster. Aided by forward Javarris Barnett (18 points) and DeMario Mayfield (15 points, nine boards), the 49ers continued on to widen their lead, an indication of a true team effort that puzzled the Colonials.
“That was our whole game plan. We were going to double him and stop him early, but he got off to a great start,” Lonergan said. “We didn’t get out on shooters, and they shot the ball with confidence, and then they drove right by us.”
One aspect of GW’s previous game against Charlotte carried over into the two teams’ second meeting: a dominant Colonials performance on the boards. GW outrebounded the 49ers 41-29, and earned a slim 28-20 advantage in the paint. Part of that statistic, Lonergan pointed out with a grim edge, was the amount of baskets the Colonials missed.
GW truly asserted itself on the boards in the second half, after only grabbing six more than the 49ers in the first. But that half also saw the breakdown of GW’s shooting, including going just 1-of-10 from three.
“I thought we did a good job in the beginning of the second half, and then our defense let us down,” Lonergan said. “You would think we outrebounded them, I thought that was going to be a big key to the game, 23 offensive rebounds. But 17 turnovers offset that, and very poor shooting.”
Taylor and junior forward David Pellom were the two most explosive forces on the court for GW, the senior adding a team-high 14 points and Pellom earning a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Lasan Kromah posted 10 points and dished out six assists, but, like the rest of GW’s roster, seemed to go cold at crucial moments. Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic added 11 points, but only three of those came after the break.
In the end, the Colonials’ breakdown was at their own hands. The team couldn’t convert on open looks, going just 27.8 percent from three, and let Charlotte capitalize on too many easy shots.
“We were pretty prepared for them to switch their defenses,” Taylor said. “We left too many people open. They made too many threes tonight, they had a high percentage. We didn’t do a good job of closing out this game”