The Colonials are a team in search of a statement win, and they almost had it against Kansas State Saturday afternoon.
The Smith Center was a deafening sea of Buff, the attendance at a season-high 3,570. GW (4-5) was down by just three points to its Big 12 opponent, with 13 seconds left, and it had the ball.
Out of a Colonial timeout, freshman forward Patricio Garino, tasked with the inbound, found senior Dwayne Smith. And with the seconds ticking down, Smith had one chance- but his trey attempt hit the corner of the rim, falling out, and the buzzer sounded on GW’s 65-62 loss.
“It was a clean look. When I got the pass from Patricio, I came off [senior guard] Lasan [Kromah’s] screen and shot the ball. And it was a miss. But it was an open look, and it was a well-written up play,” Smith said. “It just didn’t go in.”
From the outset, it was clear that the ball control struggles the Colonials have recently had out of the gates weren’t wholly in the cards. Kansas State won the tip- and used the ensuing drive to get on the board, but the Colonials were able to answer right away. GW shot 42.3 percent on the first half, including 66.7 percent from three, and turned it over only five times, able to penetrate the Wildcats’ zone while taking it to the rim.
GW would go on to record 12 turnovers on the game, a significant drop from contests past, and a solid effort against a team that brought a physical halfcourt defense to the floor.
“[Turnovers] cost us the Mount [Saint Mary’s] game and cost us the Bradley game, they had 17 seals. So guys learn from it. And we’re trying to be tougher with the basketball,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.
Even when faced with a shooting slump midway through the first half, GW didn’t panic. Much of its lead – which the Colonials didn’t relinquish throughout the half after gaining it in the game’s opening minutes – came off the strength of GW’s man-to-man defense. Starting the game, Kansas State was almost frozen, unable to push through the Colonials’ screens and heavy pressure.
GW would remain solid defensively for much of the game, holding the Wildcats to 35.7 percent shooting and recording 12 blocks. At times, the team switched into its 1-3-1 defense, trying to answer the hot-handed shooting of Wildcats guards, but it was difficult to maintain one concentrated defensive effort, Lonergan said.
“They’ve got so many good three-point shooters, it’s hard to stay in a defense,” Lonergan said. “It’s a defense we like to play and it keeps the guards from penetrating as much. I wish we could have stayed in it a little bit longer.”
Senior forward Isaiah Armwood continued to be the most exciting, energetic player in front of a packed and loud Smith Center. He recorded 12 points, 10 boards and seven blocks on the game, becoming the focal point of both GW’s defense and offense.
“I didn’t even know I had that many [blocks] until I looked at this paper, but it’s just instinct,” Armwood said. “It’s not a rhythm. I wouldn’t even consider myself a shot blocker, but it happens.”
But the battle at the boards would become one of the key difference makers during the game. The Wildcats exited the court with a 46-36 rebounding advantage, including a significant 24-11 edge on the offensive glass. That was the “killer,” Lonergan said.
“They were probably the best [rebounding team] we’ve seen so far this year. We knew coming into this game it was going up against a battle with them,” Armwood said. “Obviously, they won that battle. That’s one of the main reasons they won the game. They beat us on both defensive and offensive boards.”
That was enough to lend a slight advantage to the Wildcats during a tightly contested game. Kansas State was able to find more offensive success after the break, using a run toward the beginning of the second to pull even with and then ahead of the Colonials.
It was a gritty game- both teams were physical, sticking with their possessions and playing with high-energy tempos. But in the second half, the Wildcats were more solid defensively, pushing GW off of its shots. Though the Colonials exited the game with a 41.5 shooting percentage, about even with its initial performance, GW’s three-point shooting dropped to just 20 percent on the second half.
“Whether it’s Isaiah or another guy, we just need another guy we can depend on offensively to get a bucket,” Lonergan said. “We struggle to score at times, as you can see. Dwayne helped us today but we’ve got to get another guy to make a basket when we really need one, because we just can’t get behind.”
The loss was a disappointing one, to be sure, but not wholly disheartening. GW kept pace with Kansas State throughout the game, through seven ties and six lead changes.
Kromah joined Armwood with 12 points, adding seven boards and two steals, and Garino added a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. And GW’s bench gave it 22 points, including a renewed effort from Smith, who added 14 points and five boards during the game.
“I thought Dwayne was terrific. He worked really hard this spring and in the summer, so we’ve all been kind of disappointed that he hasn’t been as successful as we’ve wanted. Today, he was ready to play,” Lonergan said. “Defensively, as well. He did a really good job for us throughout the game.”
Moreover, coach and players agreed, the defeat held more promise heading forward than losses past.
“I think, with the way we played, nobody is disappointed with the effort that me and my teammates gave,” Armwood said. “There’s a whole bunch of plays that we could have picked up, and we could have done better. We just need to go back in practice and execute.”