On paper, the lineups couldn’t have been more different.
Seton Hall started two freshmen in Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado and relied on three more in Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and redshirt Rashed Anthony. GW started a senior and a group of juniors who are supposed to be so solid they’re called the “core,” a group with an exceptionally rare three years of starting experience together.
But as the Colonials’ 58-54 loss to Seton Hall showed, just because GW doesn’t have to rebuild the house this year doesn’t mean it won’t require some remodeling for the team to get its offense humming as a unit. So far, the starting five haven’t been finding each other like a group in its third year.
“We’ve got to look in the mirror and we’ve gotta respond,” head coach Mike Lonergan said after the loss to Seton Hall. “We need those juniors to really come through for us. All of them, not just Kethan, who was pretty good today. We need all of them to come through every game, and they did that last year.”
Coming into the season, the biggest question seemed to be whether Lonergan’s “rebound-by-committee” strategy for replacing Isaiah Armwood’s production off the glass would work. So far, it has: The Colonials are out-rebounding opponents 39-32.4 and beat the Pirates off the boards 33-31 on Saturday, though they were even off the offensive glass at 14 each.
But the greater loss, though one less discussed before the start of the season, has been production in the post. Without Armwood to split defenders, the Atlantic 10’s reigning Most Improved Player, Kevin Larsen, has been stymied in multiple games. Larsen is averaging a team-fourth 8.6 points, team-second 6.4 rebounds and has a team-high 12 total turnovers.
The Colonials designed play after play to feed Larsen when the big man was in position in the low post – only to watch him kick the ball back out to the perimeter instead of going up for the basket, even though he was guarded by smaller, younger post players for Seton Hall.
Larsen’s extra passes didn’t find better looks for other players. Larsen did not finish with a single assist as the balls he gave away went on to become awkward jumpers or forced threes that bricked off the iron if they even touched it. Lonergan confirmed after the game that the team isn’t trying to use him as a distributor.
“He’s 100 percent supposed to try to score,” Lonergan said. “There’s no double teams. I’m tired of people saying that. There’s no double teams. He’s passing the ball. Whether he’s lost confidence, whether he’s not in shape, I’m not sure, but we’ve got him the ball to try to score. If they come, then kick it out, but he’s like a backboard throwing the ball away and he’s not passing the ball well. We’re not going to win many games if he’s 1-7 with zero assists and four turnovers, alright, but hopefully he’ll bounce back.”
Larsen being doubled is not a surprise. Against what is likely the best defense the Colonials will face all year, Virginia, Lonergan said he was not only expecting but hoping that the Cavaliers would double Larsen. What he was not expecting was for Larsen to end the game with just two points on 1-3 shooting, crippled by traps he couldn’t find a way to escape.
Larsen as a passing big hasn’t panned out yet this year. The junior big has just nine assists to go with his turnovers. The Colonials as a whole have struggled to find each other, just barely passing a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio with 64 total assists and 63 total turnovers, and had just seven assists to 18 turnovers against the Pirates.
“I thought that was really the key stat of the game. To finish with seven assists and 18 turnovers in a close game, never really kept us in a position to win,” Lonergan said.
Without sharing the ball, even a player like Kethan Savage, who is averaging a team-best 14.6 points per game on 6-13 shooting while adding 5.8 rebounds per game, sometimes seems like he is trying to do too much. Though he led all scorers with 19 points against Seton Hall, he also had four turnovers and ended the game on a sour note: Savage was called for a charge driving to the basket with five seconds to go after Lonergan had told him to pull up for a three pointer.
Savage said he will have less pressure when the offense, especially the inside game, gets clicking and starts drawing defenders away.
“It definitely will open it up for us [guards], our core offensive aspect, if we get John and Kevin, allow them to get their touches and let them get scoring,” Savage said. “We’ve just got to share the ball a lot more than what we’re doing right now.”
He added that learning to play effectively together and share the ball well is still a process even for a roster that didn’t undergo a full blown makeover in the offseason.
“We have to move the ball and make plays for one another. I don’t think it’s any problem with chemistry. We trust each other out there,” Savage said. “It’s going to come together but it’s going to take time.”