Updated: Nov. 23, 2017 at 9:08 p.m.
In the second half of Thursday’s game against Xavier, men’s basketball made a run that posed a threat to the Musketeers’ unblemished record.
With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, the Colonials scored eight unanswered points behind two aggressive layups from freshman guard Terry Nolan Jr. that brought the score within six points.
Xavier – the No. 15 ranked team in the country – took three minutes to respond because of tight GW (2-3) defense. But once the Musketeers (5-0) broke through, they went on a 13-2 run en route to an 83–64 victory at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
“Against a team like that you have to be locked in for 40 minutes and execute for 40 minutes and guard for 40 minutes,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “For 32, maybe 33 minutes we did that. Those seven or eight minutes that you don’t, they capitalized on it, which is what great teams do, and that’s a hell of a team right there.”
Nolan led the Colonials in scoring, with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, followed by senior guard Yuta Watanabe and sophomore guard Jair Bolden – who both finished with 16 points.
Nolan was able to find his way to the basket on several occasions, while Bolden got GW’s offense going early with his numerous three-point attempts.
“We have a freshman who came out, was driving a ball and scored 18 points against a top-15 team,” Joseph said. “We have guys who are ready for the moment, who embrace these challenges.”
As a team, the Colonials found mild success shooting from deep – at an 8-22 clip from three-point range – but the Musketeers’ 57.9 shooting percentage from the field was too much for them to keep up with.
On the interior, GW was completely outmatched. Xavier outscored the Colonials 54-16 inside the paint and outrebounded them by 12 boards.
The Musketeers were also able to utilize a deeper bench. Xavier head coach Chris Mack played three members of his bench in more minutes than the most used member of GW’s reserves. Both Nolan and Watanabe played all 40 minutes of the matchup.
Xavier was led in scoring by junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who scored a game-high 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. He caused problems for the GW defense by establishing a dual threat presence – both on the perimeter and inside the paint.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Joseph said. “I was disappointed that a couple times we lost him. That’s not a player to lose. That’s just us being inexperienced, being a young team and not being able to be locked in.”
The Colonials started the game looking slightly timid on the offensive end and Xavier took advantage. The Musketeers went on a 7-0 run in the opening 2:52.
A jumper from Watanabe and two three-point baskets from Bolden brought GW within one point at the first media timeout. Then just over seven minutes into the game, sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro tipped back in a missed shot from Watanabe to tie the game at 13.
Early in the game, the Colonials displayed their athleticism, blocking multiple layup attempts from Xavier.
The score remained close for the following few minutes, but sophomore forward Kaiser Gates responded to Bolden’s third three with a distance shot of his own. The Musketeers then went on a 11-1 run, until Bolden, Nolan and Toro brought GW back within six.
Nolan hit one of his three shots from behind the arc in the final minute of the first half, but a buzzer-beating dunk from Xavier junior forward Sean O’Mara extended his team’s lead to seven points at the break.
In the second half, the Colonials continued their defensive effort and relied on a few pull-up jump shots from Watanabe to keep the margin in single digits.
A layup from freshman forward Naji Marshall brought the Musketeers lead to 14 – tied for their largest at the time – before GW was able to pull it to a two-possession game.
In the final minutes, a visually fatigued Colonials allowed one final Xavier run and ended up losing by a difference that doesn’t dictate the competitiveness from the majority of the game.
“These lessons will help us come conference season,” Joseph said. “We got to keep building up to that. My goal is to be playing our best basketball by February, March.”
The Colonials will return to action Friday at 8 p.m. for their final game of the Las Vegas Invitational against the loser of the Arizona State vs. Kansas State game.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the Colonials made a run in the third quarter, it was in the second half. We regret this error.