Wednesday night, the Colonials learned just how frustrating a win can be.
A frustrating win is one with 19 ties and 20 lead changes. It’s one with nearly identical field goal percentages, turnovers and assists. It’s one where a team just clears the 50 percent benchmark in its free throw shooting.
As GW walked off the court with its narrow 66-65 victory, completing a New England sweep for the season, the team had learned that a win can often be as maddening as a loss. But the end result feels a lot sweeter.
“That was a little uneasy. We felt like we should have won by a lot more. They were at home, so that was a big thing for them, but I’m glad we stuck this one out,” freshman forward Joe McDonald said. “It feels good, because now we’re starting to win the close games and make the plays when we need it.”
Still, McDonald acknowledged with a laugh, the team expects to hear about its free-throw shooting from head coach Mike Lonergan. The freshman added that he knows it’ll be a part of their next practice.
GW (9-9, 3-2 A-10) went 12-for-24 from the charity stripe, including 5-for-12 in the second half alone. Had it sunk those free chances, the final margin of victory could have been a lot more comfortable.
“We left six straight points at the foul line in a close game, so that was kind of disappointing,” Lonergan said. “To be 5-for-12 in the second half, that was tough. That was how [Rhode Island] got back into the game.”
Presented with a shifting Rhode Island offense that relied heavily on pick-and-rolls, GW struggled to implement a consistent defensive approach in the first. It switched from a man-to-man into a zone, only to get attacked from beyond the perimeter.
The Rams stayed with the Colonials nearly every step of the way in the first: draining matching threes, nabbing identical steals, and taking trips to the line in pairs. The duality reflected in many categories of the stat sheet. The two teams shot almost the same in the first: 45.8 for GW, 45.5 for the Rams. And each struggled from the line, though the Colonials were worse off, making just seven of 12 chances.
“They get their guys to play hard, and they were all over Joe,” Lonergan said. “It’s just hard to get us in an offense because they were harassing him so much. But I thought he did a great job keeping his composure.”
The similarity between the two teams would remain over the rest of play. They would volley between silky treys and sloppy turnovers, between crushing defense and passes into the wrong hands.
GW shot 51 percent for the game, while the Rams tallied a field goal percentage of 50 percent. It was a tight contest, and the Colonials clung on with slightly better plan in the paint and on the glass. They nabbed a 34-25 rebounding advantage, and outscored Rhode Island in the paint 32-20.
“We definitely did a great job rebounding,” Lonergan said. “We got to the line – we just didn’t take advantage of it.”
But the Rams clung on, taking advantage of GW scoring slumps to go on runs of their own. With the Colonials unable to take advantage of their opportunities at the line, Rhode Island used its shooting to stay in the game.
Three-point shots were followed by long, athletic jumpers, the kind the GW zone couldn’t seem to stop from falling. Rams junior guard Xavier Munford was particularly dangerous, adding 20 points, followed by senior forward Nikola Malesevic, who had 16.
“We just wanted to give them a lot of different looks. I think one of our main things is that we try not to let the best player beat us. Tonight, we didn’t do that great of a job,” McDonald said.
GW couldn’t quite match their output in a single shooter, but collectively, individual performances came together to keep the Colonials in the game. Freshman forward Kevin Larsen added 10 points, senior forward Isaiah Armwood had 13 and five boards and McDonald had 12 points and three assists.
The Colonials’ bench was strong, posting a 21-6 points advantage on URI, a further sign of offensive growth that eluded the team earlier in the season.
“[Junior forward] Nemanja [Mikic] has been better. I thought he had a really good first half,” Lonergan said. “[Sophomore forward] John Kopriva, he missed some free throws, but he gave us a good boost. He got fouls on them, and they don’t play a lot of guys.”
And as the team braved the cold weather, heading back onto the bus in preparation for an early morning flight back to D.C., Lonergan stood in the bowels of the Ryan Center, contemplating the victory.
While it may have been a frustrating win, it was a resilient one, he said. And sometimes, to a young team, that’s almost more important.
“On the road, it’s not easy. They’re coming off their best win they’ve had in maybe two or three years at Saint Louis, so we knew they’d be ready to play,” Lonergan said.“