RICHMOND, Va. – In the end, momentum proved to be the Colonials’ undoing in their 73-63 loss.
GW seemed to have a lot of it at the beginning of the first, exploding to a double-digit lead. But as the buzzer sounded on the first 20 minutes of play, it was a deflated lineup that exited the court.
During a pair of Richmond free throws, the second shot banked off the glass. The Spiders quickly recovered, stealing it and sinking a three-pointer that brought them within one. Seconds later, another Spiders free throw sent the teams into the locker room, tied at 36.
GW’s momentum was soundly shaken, especially in a streaky game that saw 54 fouls stop the clock.
“We had some huge momentum plays we gave them. I thought we’d regroup at halftime,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “It’s frustrating. The game was called very tightly.”
At first, the story of the first half seemed to be GW’s offense, which was firing on all cylinders to open the game. Holding Richmond without a field goal for over eight minutes, the Colonials (12-14, 6-7) jumped out to a 21-7 lead early in the half.
Trying to inject some life into his team, Spiders head coach Chris Mooney went berserk on the sidelines and was promptly handed a technical foul. The strategy worked, though – Richmond went on a 13-4 run, completely closing the gap by the halftime buzzer.
“I don’t know if those things are accurate or not,” Mooney said. “I was more upset with how we were playing and thought we weren’t energized. I thought we needed to be more so.”
The 29 total first-half fouls further hurt GW and helped the Spiders claw back into the game. The referees called seven of those in a row against the Colonials, giving Richmond a significant edge.
The Colonials only shot 65.5 percent from the line, easing the Spiders’ climb out of the hole. And all of GW’s starters were saddled with two fouls over the course of the first.
Freshman guard Joe McDonald and freshman forward Patricio Garino were forced out of the game for significant stretches of time, disrupting the Colonials’ already-depleted offensive flow. Richmond took advantage of the adjustment, spreading GW’s offense out and holding many of its usual shooters quiet.
“We’ve got a guy, [senior guard] Lasan Kromah, that we need to step up. And I don’t know what was wrong with him tonight, but he had seven turnovers and that’s hard to overcome,” Lonergan said. “Right now, he’s our backup point guard.”
Out of the break, it was more of the same. The Colonials exploded out on a 10-3 run, gaining a clear advantage – that is, until the fouls started to rack up. Garino and McDonald were saddled with their third, then fourth. Garino fouled out. With 13 seconds left, so did McDonald.
And the Spiders slowly closed the gap.
It all began to unravel. Richmond continued to capitalize on the fouls. The Colonials attempted shots that were too flashy for a tight game. And the Spiders sunk three consecutive treys, tying it and then pulling ahead. Again, GW struggled to defend the perimeter, Richmond sinking eight threes throughout the game.
The Colonials made just one.
“It’s their whole game. But when you’re struggling to guard them off the dribble, and you’re trying to hide some guys defensively, you have to play a little more zone,” Lonergan said. “Some guys just didn’t have any energy. We gave up too many open looks, that’s for sure.”
The momentum was fully on the Spiders’ side. And they converted it, finding a way around GW, taking their defenders to the rim and crashing the boards when they weren’t draining long outside shots.
Richmond shot 40.4 percent on the game, which belies its final advantage. Though GW’s final shooting percentage was higher – 53.7, the Spiders used their edge in free throws and treys to pull away.
“Give them credit. They’re a good shooting team. We couldn’t guard them off the dribble, we had to play a little too much 1-3-1,” Lonergan said. “And they missed a couple, and then they got hot and hit a couple.”
Once the lead began to slip, so did the rest of GW’s play. Against a Richmond team that slowly ramped up its pressure and intensity, the Colonials turned it over 22 times. They were slips that Richmond turned into 19 points.
Along with Kromah, many of the upperclassmen couldn’t inject life into Wednesday’s game. The bench tallied just 14 points, and against the worst rebounding team in the league, GW managed just a 31-28 advantage on the boards.
“There was a period where it was rough to get a feel for the game, to get into a rhythm,” freshman forward Kevin Larsen said. “But we shouldn’t be fouling like that. It was dumb fouls on our part.”
Larsen continued to be a bright spot for the Colonials, adding a career-high 16 points and five boards. Freshman guard Kethan Savage was next, with 12 points, followed by senior forward Isaiah Armwood, with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Still, it came down to momentum. And losing the 14-point edge, watching a lead evaporate and seeing starting player after starting player hit the bench in foul trouble shook the Colonials’ confidence.