Yes, the Colonials walked away with a win against Fordham Wednesday night, but it was a victory marred by frustration.
GW went just 17-for-37 from the line, a 45.9 free throw percentage that was its second-worst of the season. Shot after shot clanged off the rim, ricocheted off the glass, or – at the worst moments – missed the backboard entirely.
It was the third time in four games the team shot below 56 percent from the line. The frustration was evident on the faces of the players and the coaches sitting on the bench, and it was a statistic that followed the Colonials into the locker room, even after a 68-60 victory over the Rams.
“Yesterday, we actually shot 150 free throws each. Charted them and everything, and sometimes it’s just contagious,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “It kept them in the game. It’s a shame, because it took away from a really good defensive effort by our team. It got to the point where it was just sort of ridiculous, some people were booing. I probably would have booed, too, if I paid for my ticket.”
Further frustrating the team was the loss of senior guard Bryan Bynes, who left the game after halftime with a right knee injury.
Lonergan said he had yet to talk to team trainers, and hoped it was not a serious complication. Still, the loss of Bynes disrupted the flow of GW’s offense, taking away a senior presence on the floor.
“I knew his knee was bothering him in the first half, and he was kind of limping around, but [freshman guard] Joe [McDonald] had two fouls and we played him,” Lonergan said. “He was playing well, too. And that really hurt us. That really hurt us against their pressure.”
Trying to make up for its underwhelming performance at the line, GW tried to exploit a smaller Fordham team with dishes inside the paint. Faced with its usual three-point struggles – just 1-for-8 on the night – GW turned its offensive attention to the lane, grabbing a 44-20 points-in-the-paint advantage on the game.
The bench also proved to be an aid in GW’s often slim lead, tallying a commanding 20-3 edge in bench points before halftime. Those efforts were key in the team’s final 44.6 shooting percentage, and a major factor in the Colonials’ eventual victory.
“When the game started, it was a little bit of a slow start. Our position was to just come in and really have a spark, really turn things around, and really provide energy for the team,” senior guard Lasan Kromah said. “We just came in to do what we normally do.”
GW switched between defenses as they tried to halt Fordham’s tendency to score in bunches, finding the most success in heavy-pressing zones that saw the Colonials contain hot Fordham scorers with aggressive double-teams.
The follow-through GW continued to display throughout the game ultimately pushed the team to victory, fighting off Rams rallies until the final buzzer. The Colonials turned it over 14 times, but forced 22 Fordham turnovers that GW converted into 27 additional points. GW’s tenacity came through in its second-chance points as well, posting 20 to Fordham’s five.
“They really care, and the guys really play hard. I give a lot of credit to [senior forward] Isaiah Armwood. He’s really come in here and it’s cool to play hard again,” Lonergan said. “Isaiah leads by example, and when Lasan brings it like he did tonight, when he’s focused and playing defense, we’re kind of a good defensive team.”
Kromah added 13 points and four steals, Armwood paced GW in rebounds, with 12, and added eight points of his own.
A key player for the Colonials yet again was freshman forward Kevin Larsen, who had a career-high 15 points and five rebounds. But beyond his contributions on the stat sheet, Larsen became invaluable in aiding his teammates’ performances, setting screens and dishing out laser passes that helped the rest of GW make plays.
“I was just trying to work off the VCU game and keep being aggressive. My teammates fed me the ball in a position I really like,” Larsen said. “It just went in today.”
Frustrations aside, it was an important win for the Colonials. After facing two of the toughest A-10 teams back-to-back, the game against Fordham was a “must-win,” Lonergan said.
“Obviously, we played a good game against Butler and lost and then got drilled at VCU, so we had to win this game,” Lonergan said. “We’re going to have to play much better now at Saint Joe’s on Saturday.”