Men’s basketball never trailed in its exhibition game against Fairmont State Saturday afternoon at the Smith Center.
From the tip, the Colonials were in control of the match and walked away with an 86–63 victory over the Fighting Falcons fueled by 21-point performances from both senior guard Yuta Watanabe and sophomore guard Jair Bolden.
“We did a good job for the most part but there are a lot of things to clean up,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “We got to look at different lineups, we got to run different sets, do some of the things we have been experimenting with in practice.”
The Colonials shot at a 52.5 percent clip from the field and outrebounded the Fighting Falcons – a Division II team that finished last year with a 34-3 record and reached the national championship game – 45-29 in the victory.
Along with his scoring output, Watanabe grabbed 11 boards on the night, good for a double-double. On the offensive end he was the aggressor, making it to the line 15 times and sinking 12 of his attempts.
“He’s not the kind of guy that can score one way, so it works to our benefit of him being so versatile,” Joseph said. “He’s going to have to get some from the three point line, get some driving, get some from the free throw line.”
Graduate student forward Patrick Steeves contributed 10 points and sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro tallied a team-high 10 defensive rebounds.
Throughout the game, GW was able to get to the rim easily in part due to a size advantage. The Colonials shot only eight three-pointers in the game while the Fighting Falcons were often limited to the perimeter and took 29 attempts from behind the arc.
“We are not going to have a size advantage on every team that we play so when we do, we have to make sure we are versatile enough to be able to take advantage,” Bolden said.
Every eligible GW player saw minutes on the court, including seven newcomers. Freshman guard Terry Nolan Jr. was the only first-year Colonial in the starting lineup and logged 27 minutes on the court, scoring six points.
“He is a very intelligent basketball player and you don’t always get that from a freshman,” Joseph said. “As he becomes a better shooter and better ball handler, as his game increases and his body matures, I think he is going to be a monster in this league.”
GW’s defense was on to a good start, with Nolan blocking a three-point attempt by Fairmont in the opening minutes of the game.
The Colonials went on a 7-0 scoring run and led by as much as 15 points in the first half, before turnovers allowed the Fighting Falcons to respond and get within two points of the lead with five minutes left in the half.
“I think a lot of it was due to fatigue, we made some tired mistakes,” Joseph said. “I was telling our guys, the first thing to go when you get tired is our concentrations, our focus and our ability to lock in and find our man.”
The Colonials broke away and went on another 8-0 run in the final three minutes of the half. A buzzer-beating three-point shot 30 feet out from Bolden gave the Colonials a 45–29 lead heading into the halftime break.
Bolden led the team with 14 points at halftime, followed by Watanabe with 11. Steeves and sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro had six points each.
The team’s defense, a point of focus for Joseph, did not allow any Fairmont players to score double-digits in the first half.
The Colonials continued to find the rim in the second half, with Watanabe hitting a three-point shot to open the half and start a 6-0 scoring run for GW.
With a 57-31 lead and 17 minutes left to go in the game, Joseph started playing his bench, including freshmen Justin Mazzulla, Maceo Jack and Javier Langarica.
Mazzulla contributed six points and four rebounds in the game, but for him, the day’s win was more personal – his older brother Joe Mazzulla is Fairmont State’s head coach.
“I was so happy to give him that opportunity,” Joseph said. “With their age gap being 10 years they would never get to play each other in college but this was an opportunity that I thought would be pretty cool for their family.”
GW led by as many as 31 points with 10 minutes to go in the half and the outcome of the game was not in question for the remainder of the afternoon.
The Colonials start their regular season action against Howard Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Smith Center.