Updated: Nov. 11, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.
With just over a minute left on the clock, men’s basketball found itself up by four points as a Howard guard went up for a three-point shot Friday night at the Smith Center.
The Bison had battled back from a 10-point deficit with three minutes to play and stopped GW from scoring on three straight possessions.
The attempt – although potentially dangerous – never made it close to the hoop. Senior guard Yuta Watanabe leaped from the left side and deflected the shot into the ground.
To close out the possession, the 6-foot-9 Kagawa, Japan native took off to the other side of the court and slammed home a dunk that iced the 84–75 season opening win for the Colonials (1-0) over the Bison (0-1).
“Credit to them, they did a hell of a job keeping us on our toes a little bit,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “We’re a team that’s a work in progress, we have got to guard without fouling and we have got to contain the ball a lot better.”
The Friday night win at the Smith Center marked the fifth consecutive season in which GW picked up a victory in its first game.
Watanabe led an efficient Colonials offense that shot 53.4 percent in the contest and spread the scoring out between their top five scorers.
He tallied a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds for the game’s only double-double, while sophomore guard Jair Bolden added 17 points, graduate student forwards Patrick Steeves and Bo Zeigler both contributed 16 and sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro finished with 11.
“We’re gonna be a different team. We’re gonna do it by committee,” Joseph said. “Yes, Yuta needs to be more aggressive, yes he needs to be assertive all the time he’s out there, but we’re not asking him to score 30 points a game for us to be good. We’re gonna spread it out.”
In his first official game in a GW jersey, Zeigler came off the bench and brought the crowd to their feet with athletic plays, finishing two alley-oops off of out-of-bounds passes.
“I just try to provide a spark any way I can,” Zeigler said. “Obviously tonight was the dunks. We need to get that extra little push to get us to push the lead up.”
Joseph also played freshmen guards Terry Nolan Jr. (34 minutes) and Justin Mazzulla (11 minutes), but did not go beyond seven players deep on his bench.
Early in the game, the Colonials offense was mostly focused around the perimeter, taking several three-point shots in the opening minutes. They were unable to get outside momentum, going throughout the game with a 5-for-17 clip from behind the arc on the night.
“They got into the bonus really quickly, refs were calling a lot of fouls so I’m not gonna shoot a bunch of jump shots,” Joseph said. “Pat and Toro were doing a good job scoring inside so was Bo. So we just fed those guys.”
Howard found much more success from three-point range and pushed for deep shots while trailing. The Bison finished the game 10-for-26 on three-pointers.
Neither team started the game shooting hot. The Colonials made only one of their first six shots and were focusing on its perimeter offense – going 1-for-5 from behind the arc in the first three minutes.
Sophomore guard Charles Williams gave Howard a spark after four minutes, sinking a three-pointer that gave the Bison the lead to bring them within one after Watanabe’s first basket from three-point range.
Both sides continued shooting challenges and Howard redshirt freshman guard Kai Tease made a three to tie the game up at 13 and another to give Howard the 16-13 lead after the second media timeout.
The two sides battled back and forth for the next 10 minutes with slightly improved offenses. Bolden tied the game at 18 with a three pointer and two possessions later, a mid-range jumper from Watanabe knotted the score at 20.
Howard freshman guard Kyle Foster gave the Colonials trouble on the perimeter, but a free throw from Toro and baskets from Zeigler kept the game close.
With five minutes left in the first half, Watanabe tied up the game at 30 after a steal from Nolan led to a breakaway dunk, sending the Smith Center crowd into a frenzy.
But the Bison had a quick response. Cole made a free throw to give his team a one-point advantage and, after an inside shot from Steeves, drained his second three-pointer.
An 8-0 run – including two baskets from Steeves and another dunk from Watanabe – propelled the Colonials to a 40–36 lead at halftime.
GW came out of the break with continued momentum. Layups from Steeves and Watanabe matched Howard’s efforts and a dunk from Zeigler – in which he jumped from more than 10 feet away from the hoop – moved the Colonials lead to 50–42.
Nine minutes into the second half, GW found itself a man up after a Bison forward fell to the ground on their offensive end. The Colonials swung the ball around and into the hands of Bolden, who sank a three-pointer. On the next time down the court, he added a corner jumper to give the home team a 11-point cushion – the largest lead of the game.
After fouls plagued GW’s defensive effort in the final minutes, the Bison were forced to foul as the Colonials wasted out the clock and Bolden sunk free throws.
The Colonials return to action Tuesday for their first road game of the year against Florida State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that sophomore guard Jair Bolden scored 11 points, he scored 17. The number is now updated. We regret this error.