Junior forward David Pellom headed to the line with only 27 seconds on the clock, spinning the ball in his hands.
After senior guard Tony Taylor missed the second of his two free throws, Pellom leapt into action, pulling down the rebound and drawing a foul. Now, in a game where the Colonials shot just 61.9 percent from the stripe, Pellom had a chance to pull GW (10-18) ahead by four.
It was 52-50 GW when Pellom stepped to the line, dribbled, paused and shot. His first attempt sailed through the net, and so did his second. Duquesne would make one more basket, but Pellom’s points cemented the Colonials’ 56-51 victory,
followed by the junior slapping away a shot that kept the Dukes from a key final basket.
“Throughout the game, we had been going to the line, making one, missing one. It was very frustrating. Coach [Kevin] Sutton asked me, when am I going to make two free throws in a row? I told him it would come down to the next time I got to the line,” Pellom said. “I went up there and knocked them down.”
Heading into the game, head coach Mike Lonergan knew it was important to displace Duquesne’s fast-paced, motion-oriented offense. The Dukes boasted the fourth-best scoring offense in the Atlantic 10, making them a dangerous opponent with the ability to unleash the kind of crippling scoring runs that have proved to be GW’s undoing this season.
The Colonials showed consistency on defense Saturday afternoon, mainly staying in a one-man zone that saw GW tracking its Dukes opponents across the court. The cornerstone of GW’s defense was below the basket, where a Colonials big man – often graduate student forward Jabari Edwards – maintained a solid presence. It was GW’s defense that won the game, holding the Dukes to just 37.3 percent shooting on the day.
“I thought it helped us that we decided to start Jabari, just because they play four guards and [sophomore forward] Nemanja [Mikic] would have had to chase a guard out there, which isn’t his strength,” Lonergan said. “We played hard. Usually if you out-rebound a team and hold them to a field goal percentage of 37 percent, you have to play hard to do that.”
The solid effort centered around the play of Edwards – whose four blocks moved him into sixth all-time at GW – Pellom and junior forward Dwayne Smith, who was looked toward to provide a solid presence under the net. Smith pulled down 11 boards and added nine points.
It was Pellom who exploded as a true difference-maker, adding his third double-double in a row with 10 boards and 11 points. The forward is the first Colonial to record three double-doubles in a row since Damian Hollis accomplished the feat during the 2007-08 season.
“Offensive end, being at the right place at the right time. And basically defense, just crashing the boards, coach has been emphasizing that,” Pellom said. “That’s where it comes from.”
The effects of GW’s crushing defensive presence were soon evident. The Colonials out-rebounded the Dukes 42-24, taking control of play at the basket, and turning that into 34-20 advantage in points in the paint. With seven blocks on the day, as compared to Duquesne’s two, it was clear that the Colonials were dominant under the net.
“[Duquesne] did a solid job [on defense], but I think we just didn’t make shots,” Taylor said. “Honestly, we had a lot of open shots today, and we just did not make shots. Dave and Jabari and Dwayne did a great job on the boards and that really helped us.”
With its shooting from long-range effectively silenced, GW needed to step up its production in the paint. Junior guard Lasan Kromah tied Pellom to lead the team in points with 11, and pulled down 4 boards. The Colonials shot 43.8 percent on the day, making up for their shooting struggles with hard drives to the net and a 16-7 edge on second-chance points.
Taylor was, as usual, a solid playmaker for GW, creating openings for his teammates and adding seven points with four assists. His role was lessened by sophomore guard Dan Guest, who assumed the point guard position to give Taylor time to rest, or to step into the shooting guard spot. Guest played his best game of the season, adding four points, pulling down four boards and turning in a high-energy defensive performance that saw him swipe three steals.
“We’ve been playing three guards and today, [junior guard] Bryan [Bynes] for whatever reason was really struggling with the ball. So we gave Dan a shot, and I give him credit, he’s been practicing better, and he played really hard,” Lonergan said. “The rebounding, diving on loose balls, I thought he really set the tone for us. And it got the team fired up.”
Lonergan admitted after the game, it wasn’t a perfect win. The team struggled with control, committing 15 turnovers to 11 assists. But last season, Duquesne forced the Colonials to turn the ball over 26 times, the result of their heavily pressing defense.
At the end of a season where GW hasn’t always brought its hardest effort to the court, seeing the team play with such intensity Saturday was heartening for its head coach. And it was important – without the Colonials knowing it, Fordham and Rhode Island victories on Saturday turned GW’s contest into a must-win as the team continues to seek a tournament berth.
“I felt pretty good after the game, after we won. I was happy for our guys walking downstairs, and when [athletics communications] told me Fordham and Rhode Island won, I felt like somebody punched me in the stomach. That was tough to hear, because I just wanted to clinch it,” Lonergan said. “It’s kind of like baseball. The magic number, I guess, was two, and now it’s one. We’ve got to win another one, or they’ve got to lose.”