PHILADELPHIA — The first five shots of Sunday’s game were all three-point attempts. GW missed its three, while La Salle’s guards sunk both of their shots.
The contest at Tom Gola Arena was far from over at that point, but the early game performance set a tone. It was just the beginning of a game where the Explorers seemed one step ahead throughout.
Despite good shooting and solid offensive movement, the Colonials (9-9, 1-4 A-10) could not keep up with A-10 foe La Salle (10-5, 4-1 A-10). The visitors never led, and eventually fell 79–69 to mark their third consecutive loss and fifth in six games.
“It’s disappointing. We knew at the start of the season that we could shoot the ball with anybody we play against,” interim head coach Maurice Joseph said. “On the defensive end is where we are going to separate ourselves. When we shoot the ball this well but then give up 61.4 percent on the other end, we are not going to beat anyone.”
GW knocked down 23 out of their 48 attempts from the floor, assisting on 15 of them. Such statistics are usually a recipe for success, but compared to the Explorers offense, it was hardly competitive.
La Salle shot a stand-out 61.4 percent from the floor, 64.7 percent from behind the arc and 93.3 percent from the free throw line, hardly ever taking its foot off the gas pedal offensively.
“There were defensive breakdowns, we didn’t talk enough on defense, which let guys get open threes,” freshman guard Jair Bolden said. “As a team, we didn’t do the things we needed to do well enough.
La Salle redshirt senior guard Jordan Price particularly had his way against the GW defense. He finished with 23 points, shooting 9-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-5 from distance.
A small bright spot for GW over the past three loses has been the emergence of Bolden as a physical guard with scoring ability. After putting up career-highs in points (12) and minutes (27) last time out, he led the Colonials with 16 points Sunday in 30 minutes of play.
“Jair did a tremendous job all game. He is a bigger defender. He is doing a better job with his confidence,” Joseph said. “The last two games, even though we lost them were very positive for Jair.”
Junior guard Yuta Watanabe and graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh also had solid nights the Colonials offensively on the night combining for 26 points and 12 rebounds. Though they were able to find the basket, both of scoring totals were below their respective averages and not enough to close the gap.
The Colonials came in with a big height advantage. GW started four players 6-feet-8-inches or taller compared to just one for the Explorers. Despite the differential, La Salle commanded the paint on the offensive end. They finished with 14 more points in the paint after leading 16-0 in the category at the half.
“They played small and at one point had five perimeter guys out there, which takes away our strength of us trying to play big,” Joseph said. “Then you can’t play big and play zone because they could all shoot the ball. It was a tough matchup for us.”
After trailing 12–4 in the first four minutes, GW was able to find a spark from Bolden in the form of five unanswered points and keep the game from getting out of hand in the opening frame.
Jump shots from sophomore guard Jordan Roland, redshirt junior point guard Jaren Sina and Watanabe kept the Colonials within striking distance despite the consistent shooting of La Salle’s offense.
The Explorers scored the only points in the final two minutes of the first half, finishing with a 4-0 run and extending the margin to 10 points, the largest of the game so far, by the halftime break.
GW came into the second half intense on offense and ready to cut into the lead. Cavanaugh and Watanabe combined for six unanswered points, making it a four-point game. The Explorers calmly responded, capitalizing on several Colonials misses and sinking two baskets of their own.
Baskets from Watanabe twice made it a four-point game with just over a quarter of the game left to play. La Salle again stayed ahead of the attempted GW comeback by going on a 19-3 run that seemed to put all of the Colonials hopes at a comeback down the drain.
As the Explorers maintained their offensive fluidity, the final six minutes went quickly and without much contention.
“Now is not the time for us to lose confidence or to think it’s crisis management,” Joseph said. “We have to go out there, keep going to work and keep getting better.”
The Colonials return home on Wednesday when they will host Duquesne at the Smith Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.