Don’t look now – there’s still a large portion of the season to go – but the Colonials may have tallied their most complete victory of the Mike Lonergan era Saturday.
GW’s 82-54 victory against Charlotte did more than just surpass the team’s single-game points total for this season. And it did more than extend the team’s win streak to three games. It was a statement win, a feel-good victory that came with the most balanced attack the team has presented all season.
It was also a victory over the team tied for first place in the Atlantic 10. It was a win that moved GW (10-9, 4-2 A-10) into the top tier of the conference, positioning the team well for the coming months of league play that will determine a bid and seeding in postseason competition.
“This one was fun. Especially on Coaches versus Cancer, suits and sneakers day. My mom and [my former coach] Jack Bruen died of cancer, so I told the guys before the game, the freshmen, I said, ‘I don’t want to assume you know what this is all about.’ And it’s important to me,” Lonergan said. “I said, ‘You should play for whoever in your life is fighting cancer or passed away.’ ”
After an opening lull, things began to click for the Colonials. The shots that were clanging off the rim began to fall, and GW took the lead with an 18-5 run. It was an advantage it would never relinquish, the team maintaining a comfortable distance from the 49ers throughout the rest of play.
With 17 assists on the game, it was a cohesive, unified Colonial offense that took the court Saturday afternoon. Running through freshman guard Joe McDonald, GW played through Charlotte’s traps and double teams, and remained calm in the face of the 49ers’ press. GW shot 53.2 percent, staying well above water despite turning the ball over 16 times against the team that’s first in the A-10 in field goal defense.
“We really want to play team ball. Move around, and not really stay stationary with the ball, and execute. So we wanted them to chase us and really have to play defense,” senior guard Lasan Kromah said. “We made a couple of good passes. Fortunately for us, we made them, and we just tried to stay consistent for the full 40 minutes.”
Charlotte’s frustration came through in the second half, as the foul calls ramped up. All in all, there were 45 total fouls on the game – and 31 of those came after the break.
It was another game that saw the scoring spread across the Colonial roster. Continuing its recent trend, GW’s bench torched the 49ers for 43 points. Kromah and senior guard Bryan Bynes led that charge, scoring 12 each. Kromah added five boards and three steals, while Bynes had four assists.
“We came in to really add a spark to the game,” Kromah said. “So us coming off the bench is big, we’re going against their bench. We have a lot of veteran guys coming off the bench, so we just come in and try to pick up the slack a bit.”
Members of the starting five, too, aided GW’s attack. Senior forward Isaiah Armwood had nine points, a block and eight rebounds, while freshman forward Patricio Garino had 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting to go along with four steals.
“We do have an unselfish team. Sometimes that can be a fault when you need a bucket and the shot clock’s down,” Lonergan said. “Our guys, our chemistry is good. They really like each other and they’re a fun team to coach.”
Earlier this season, when their shots just weren’t falling, GW often relied on its defense to keep it in the game. That experience paid off Saturday, as it held Charlotte to just 31.6 percent shooting on the game.
The Colonials controlled the baseline, outrebounding the 49ers 40-27.
It was an impressive feat against a team averaging 40 rebounds a game, and it completely disrupted Charlotte’s attack. Despite junior guard DeMario Mayfield’s 17 points, the 49ers had just six assists throughout play, unable to turn one player’s success into a unified offensive front.
“Charlotte’s having a great season. Their chemistry seems better this year, they’re winning with rebounding and defense and we felt that we had to really play tough today,” Lonergan said. “We did a great job on the boards. Some of our guards really got in there and rebounded, [who] normally we don’t get a lot of rebounds.”
When GW was last in Foggy Bottom on Jan. 16, it walked off the court after a gut-wrenching loss to Temple.
But the team got up off the mats. Riding a three-game win streak, the Colonials now turn their focus to facing La Salle Feb. 2, and maybe, just maybe, a continuation of their recent success over the rest of the A-10 season. A bid to Brooklyn seems closer now, the team learning to compete in a tougher Atlantic 10 that will only have slots for 12 of its 16 teams in the postseason.
“We found a way to win the close games, and that helped a lot,” Garino said. “Our confidence is pretty up right now.”