Men’s basketball’s sixth loss of the season, suffered at the University of Rhode Island on Saturday in a 59-55 tilt, was also its sixth loss away from home.
While college hoops may be one of the toughest sports to play as a visitor – the formula for RPI counts a road win as 1.4 wins and a road loss as 0.6 of a loss – an experienced GW squad that’s starting five upperclassmen was expected to better maintain its composure in hostile territory.
“It’s very difficult to win on the road. We would have liked to get this game today,” head coach Mike Lonergan said Saturday. “Since we’ve gotten back from Hawaii, I don’t think our juniors have played up to par. We have four juniors and how they go is how we’re going to go. They’ve got to carry us.”
The Colonials are now 3-6 on the road and will have to break serve for the rest of their road schedule to finish with a winning record away from the Smith Center. To do that, simply put, they’ll need to spend more time with the basketball.
A combination of turnover numbers that Lonergan described as “ridiculous” and allowing opponents to offensive rebound has meant that GW’s has had to defend far more opportunities to score than they’re created for themselves. The NCAA doesn’t calculate time of possession, but if it did, it’s pretty certain it wouldn’t be pretty for GW on the road.
Turnovers stand out the most. In front of a loud URI crowd of over 7,000, the Colonials’ junior core four seemed out of sync, turning the ball over a combined 14 times to contribute to the team’s staggering season-high total of 21 on the day.
Aside from junior guard Kethan Savage – who had an impressive game with 10 points, five assists and zero turnovers – every GW starter finished with an assist to turnover ratio lower than 1.0, with junior guard Patricio Garino posting a team-worst three assists and six giveaways. Normally a technically solid ball hawk, Garino played loose with the ball, dribbling away from his body and bobbling passes.
Although assists have been a problem for much of the season – with GW currently ranking second-worst in the conference, averaging 11.3 per game – road games seem to drive them down even more, while also exacerbating turnover woes. GW even out-assisted Rhode Island on Saturday, but it didn’t matter given the staggering number of giveaways.
In the Colonials’ three A-10 losses this season – on the road against La Salle, VCU and URI – they combined for 24 assists and 57 turnovers, a ratio of 0.42 compared to their season average of 0.91, already the third-worst in the conference.
For a while on Saturday, the Colonials hung in there and even took a lead late in the game, largely because of their ability to force Rhode Island into bad shots. But even when the Rams missed, they still often got an offensive rebound to keep possession. Rhode Island ended the game having taken two more shots than GW, despite the Colonials ultimately winning the rebound margin 35-30 and 14-12 on the offensive glass.
A dozen URI second-chance opportunities, off of which the Rams scored 12 points, were big momentum boosters for the home team, with many coming at critical junctures in the game.
“Giving up 12 offensive rebounds is probably the most disappointing thing today because those make you play defense again, and that’s how you get tired,” Lonergan said. “When they get an offensive rebound after we play pretty good D, they bring it out and we have to guard them for another 20 or 30 seconds, so those were some killer offensive rebounds they had.”
Down 52-50 in the game’s final minute, for example, the Colonials’ defense was able to force URI into a lay up attempt that missed. But instead of GW securing a rebound and taking it the other way for a chance to tie, URI’s T.J. Buchanan brought it down off the glass, was fouled and made two free throws for a two-possession lead that electrified the Ryan Center.
VCU and La Salle also combined for 30 offensive rebounds in GW’s previous A-10 road losses, and the Colonials have taken fewer shots than their opponents in all six road losses.
With Duquesne, Richmond, Davidson and George Mason still left on the road schedule, a loss on any of their courts could have substantial post-season implications. GW needs its juniors to step up and maintain their composure on the road going forward.
For a few minutes late in the game Saturday, that composure was there. But it wasn’t enough, and it won’t be until GW finds a way to spend more time holding the basketball in games, especially when away from the Smith Center.