The ending of Tony Taylor’s Senior Night was shaping up to be the stuff of sports legends.
Over the final two minutes, the senior guard dished out two assists that set up junior guard Lasan Kromah and junior forward David Pellom for back-to-back baskets. Then, he hit a jumper of his own that brought GW within a point of La Salle with 21 seconds left.
The Explorers hit a foul shot, pushing their lead back up to two. Again, the ball went to Taylor, the guard driving down the court to tie the game – but this time, his jumper didn’t fall. The next GW possession saw freshman forward John Kopriva try to send a long pass down the court to Taylor, seeking to set the senior up for one last attempt at a critical basket.
Instead, the ball volleyed out of bounds, turning it back over to La Salle and cementing GW’s (10-19) 60-56 loss. And true to the humble, team-first mentality Taylor’s displayed throughout his tenure as a Colonial, the 21st-highest scorer in program history left the court after his last home game shouldering responsibility for the defeat.
“I was just upset that I missed that last shot to tie the game. Just upset for the rest of the seniors that we didn’t win this game, and the rest of the team. It’s tough to lose on Senior Night, or any night, at that,” Taylor said.
Emotion was running high out of the pregame Senior Night activities, the entire roster on the bench to honor Taylor, senior guard Aaron Ware, graduate student forward Jabari Edwards and walk-on senior guard Michael Conward – except for freshman forward Jonathan Davis, who didn’t dress due to illness. But the momentum soon shifted in La Salle’s favor, as the early moments of the half soon turned into a shooting contest. The Explorers held GW at bay, increasing their lead to 10 with seven minutes and 46 seconds left in the half, but by the half, the Colonials had pulled within five.
The same scenario unfolded as play opened in the second. The teams traded baskets, but La Salle was able to sink more, leading by 10 at three different points on the half. Still, in their last home game of the year, the Colonials weren’t to be counted out, scoring six points over 30 seconds at one point to pull within one.
“I thought the effort was there. We started the game being outrebounded 11-4, and then we finished the game outrebounding them,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We just have so many breakdowns, and it breaks your back. But we kept our composure, and I thought we made some good plays. We definitely struggled shooting the ball again, from threes.”
GW exited the court shooting an even 50 percent on the game. The Colonials outrebounded the Explorers 33-24, exploiting GW’s significant advantage in the post, and held a 12-5 advantage on second-chance points. It was a performance that should have resulted in more than the Colonials’ 56 points on the night, and the culprit was a familiar one.
“The ball wasn’t going in the basket, and it’s tough when that doesn’t happen. We made a couple of drives, and things, there was just a lid on the basket. And it was tough for us,” Taylor said.
Pellom led the team in scoring, picking up his fourth consecutive double-double, an unprecedented feat, with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Pellom attributed his success to staying strong on the boards, calling that his “first objective” on the court. The rest of his teammates didn’t fare as well: Ware and Kromah each added 10 points, the only other two Colonials to hit double-digits.
Aside from a team-wide shooting slump, La Salle’s shifting defense reduced GW’s effectiveness at the net. The Explorers’ doubleteams trapped the Colonials effectively, holding them without good looks as the shot clock ran out. Many times, a Colonial was forced to fling the ball toward the net in desperation as the buzzer sounded on the play. GW also struggled to hang on to the ball, turning it over 17 times.
“We wanted to focus on playing a little harder. At La Salle, it was probably one of our worst efforts of the season,” Lonergan said. “Tonight, we did a great job taking the threes away and guarding the three-point line. We held them to 60, but we have to find a way to score. “
The last time GW faced La Salle, the Explorers’ four-guard offense proved problematic to defend, and Galloway torched the Colonials for a career-high 28 points. Wednesday night, GW set up in a 1-3-1 zone, trying to apply pressure around the arc and in the high post against the A-10’s leading long-range shooting team. Even though the Colonials held Galloway to nine points on the night, they couldn’t totally stifle La Salle’s offense.
The Explorers have started the same lineup in all of their Atlantic 10 games, and all of their starters average in the double figures. Wednesday, La Salle’s bench scored just a single point, their starting lineup responsible for the other 59. The four-guard setup remains a thorn in GW’s side, its head coach said.
“Truthfully, it’s a tough matchup for us,” Lonergan said. “They’re not used to guarding guards, and they’re playing four guards at all times.”
Even as the Colonials walked away from the loss, they had cemented a longer season: by virtue of a Fordham loss at Rhode Island Wednesday night, GW earned a berth in the A-10 tournament. With final seeding to be determined as the regular season closes Saturday, Lonergan still believes his team has the potential to turn its season around during postseason play.
“Tonight, we have a tough loss and then we find out that we made it. It’s kind of a strange way to get in, and I’m happy we’re in,” Lonergan said. “The guys are working hard in practice, we’re improving in some areas, we just have to find a way to get more than 56 points up there on the board.”