In a matter of two days, the men’s basketball program will host its biggest opponent in over a decade when No. 14 Butler steps into the Smith Center.
The court was quiet today, the calm before the storm, as the Colonials trickled in for practice. After last night’s victory over Duquesne, the two day turn-around may seem daunting to some, but the team’s excitement was palpable.
Still, head coach Mike Lonergan said, the road trip had an impact on the day. Wanting his team to stay loose ahead of the Bulldogs, GW planned on taking it easy Thursday afternoon.
“We had a rough trip back last night, got home real late, early this morning,” Lonergan said. “So we’re going to shoot a lot today, watch a little film on Butler, watch a little film after practice and then tomorrow we’ll concentrate on how we’re going to guard them.”
Staying loose is Lonergan’s theme of the week, the head coach working to make sure his team – and its four freshmen starters – isn’t overcome with nerves before Saturday’s game.
It’s just one game, Lonergan said, win or lose. While defeating Butler would be a clear statement win for the program, it won’t wholly define GW’s season. Senior guard Lasan Kromah agreed, adding that the Colonials are more comfortable with their system than ever at this point in the season.
“We’re not trying to get too excited. We’re really trying to see it as another game. We know it’s a big game, we have to be careful,” Kromah said. “It’s a sold out game, and hopefully we can just keep playing our game like we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and just execute.”
GW’s execution has increased dramatically since A-10 competition started. Fellow senior Isaiah Armwood echoed Kromah’s thoughts, adding the team’s mentality is that “every game is a big game to us.”
“Everybody’s stepped up when they needed to,” Armwood said. “If you just keep pushing forward these last few games of the season, we’ll be alright.”
Nerves and season outlook aside, beating one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 would be a valuable victory as the Colonials careen toward the Barclays Center. Key for GW Saturday afternoon will be cracking down on Butler’s shooting, particularly their main threat from outside: guard Rotnei Clarke.
You can expect to see freshman forward Patricio Garino guarding Clarke, Lonergan said, adding that the explosive guard has “completely changed their team for the better.” Key for the Colonials Saturday will be sticking to the strengths that define their play, the head coach added.
“We’re going to try to focus on us a lot. Rebounding, defense, when we do those two things we really have been pretty competitive,” Lonergan said. “We’re going to try to not get hung up too much on all of their plays, because they run so many sets it can get confusing with the two-day turnaround time that we have.”
He attributes many of those strengths to Armwood, who Lonergan says has been GW’s own catalyst. The senior forward’s changed the culture of the Colonials program, Lonergan added, saying that the energy and enthusiasm he plays with motivates the rest of GW’s players.
And Armwood, who boasts varied experience against tough programs from his Big East days, remains a staunch believer in his team’s potential.
“In my case, before the season started, I wanted the NCAA tournament, no matter what,” Armwood said. “I think we can still do that.”
Perhaps aware of the challenge facing his team in a matter of days, Lonergan was more cautiously optimistic. In a strong A-10, he said, it’s important for GW to focus game-by-game on its path to Brooklyn.
“My theme is ‘no sleep ‘till Brooklyn.’ Twelve out of 16 [teams] going is something I wasn’t in agreement with and it makes it very difficult because that’s going to be a heck of a team that comes in 13th place in our league,” Lonergan said. “We’ll worry about seeding and all of that later, but I want to make sure we get as many wins as we can to make that trip to the A-10 tournament.”