Defensive slide has Lonergan considering lineup changes

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Photo Editor

GW is staying quiet on allegations that men's basketball head coach Mike Lonergan verbally and emotionally abused players.

Juniors Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage, Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and senior John Kopriva have started all 25 of GW’s games this season, but that could change as early as Wednesday.

After the team set and then broke its season-high points allowed over the last two games, and with NCAA Tournament hopes dangling by a thread, head coach Mike Lonergan said he will switch in one or two new starters.

“You can talk about defense and the same guys not really guarding, but unless you’re willing to make some moves nothing is really going to change,” Lonergan said. “So if we change the lineup, it’s not to blame anybody. It’s just to try to strengthen our subs and maybe make our starters better defensively.”

In the early days of the season, GW was touted as a defensive juggernaut – one of the NCAA’s best three-point defenses.

The Colonials ended a strong non-conference season with a trophy, beating then-No. 11 Wichita State to win the Diamond Head Classic after allowing the least points over the course of three games in the history of the event.

Flash forward to the end of GW’s demoralizing homecourt loss to No. 20 VCU on Saturday, and the same team has dropped four of its last five games, including the first loss of the season at home.

Lonergan said he’d start the best five defensive players and move a better player to provide scoring off the bench.

When the defense is working, like it was against Wichita State, the Colonials have been able to pack in the middle and force opponents into shooting contested threes that they often miss.

But in the 79-66 VCU loss, the Rams sank 12 of 30 three-point shots just three days after Duquesne netted 10 of 21 attempts on their homecourt on the way to a 78-62 victory.

Against VCU, GW was torched by Melvin Johnson’s 5-8 three-point shooting and Doug Brooks’ 4-6 mark. Brooks tried just one shot from two-point range and missed it, while he made 66 percent of his long-ball attempts, good for a 4-7 overall. That’s just a bunch of different ways to say the same thing: The Rams got open a lot behind the three-point line, especially in the corners.

“I think it’s a lack of energy,” Lonergan said. “We struggle to get five guys committed defensively as a team. Our 1-3-1 used to be a huge strength of ours, but you can’t play it when three guys are playing really hard, our back guy didn’t get to the corner, just really had no energy. We were really giving them wide open threes in the 1-3-1.”

The VCU game was tied at halftime, and the Colonials had been the aggressors going into the lockers. But midway through the second half, they were clinging to the game in the middle of a scoring drought that went on for nearly seven minutes.

A couple VCU turnovers were keeping the score from getting out of hand, though, until Brooks found a wide open look in the corner and hit his third three-pointer of the night for a 56-48 lead.

Lonergan called timeout to give the Colonials a chance to regroup, and after allowing a layup to Jonathan Lewis, they cut it to five once again off a bucket and extra shot from Savage and a steal converted to a layup by Garino.

But yet again, the defense lapsed and Melvin Lewis was left open in the corner. His triple made it 61-53 and the Rams quickly stretched out the lead to about 10 points.

“I think it’s focus,” Garino said. “It’s a mentality that we need to be back at the level that we were defensively… Maybe psychologically we’re thinking too much about offense or missing shots or mental breakdowns that we have.”

Losers in four of their last five, the Colonials will need to get back to that place quickly to have any hope of salvaging their NCAA Tournament prospects. For now, Lonergan is running out of reasons not to shake things up.

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