When head coach Maurice Joseph spoke to his men’s basketball team after the first half of Saturday’s game against Penn State, the Colonials were trailing by their largest halftime deficit in his seven-year GW career.
Joseph said he challenged his players to decide what kind of team they were going to be and whether they would respond with the effort and enthusiasm necessary for winning games.
The Colonials (5-5) answered the challenge and outscored the Nittany Lions (8-3) by nine points in the second half, but were unable to erase the sizable margin. Playing at home, Penn State came away with a 74–54 victory, shooting 48.3 percent from the field and outscoring GW by 24 points in the paint.
“I thought we came out in the second half a little bit more spirited,” Joseph said. “But this is a great lesson for a young team to understand that we can’t come into any road game, never mind a pretty good opponent, and not be spirited.”
The game equaled GW’s match against Florida State for the team’s largest loss of the season and snapped the Colonials’ three-game winning streak.
The Colonials did not bring the lead under 20 points after the first 13 minutes of the game. They shot a season-low 36.5 percent from the field and made only two three-pointers on the afternoon.
“When things weren’t going well, we started to play hero ball a little bit,” Joseph said. “We are better when the ball moves and when guys are willing to pass up good shots for great shots.”
Despite the difference in team scoring totals, senior guard Yuta Watanabe finished his performance with 18 points – just one point behind Nittany Lions sophomore guard Tony Carr, who had the game’s highest tally. Sophomore guard Jair Bolden finished the game with 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting – the only other Colonial in double-digits.
Carr proved trouble for GW’s defense, shooting 2-of-3 from deep and forcing the Colonials to allow gaps and focus on help defense.
“A guard like him who can post you up while still being a really good threat from the outside is going to benefit us down the stretch,” Joseph said. “Now we got a look at which one of our guys defensively can match up with that.”
The Colonials finished with just five assists, all in the second half, on their 19 made baskets – their lowest total of the season and well below their previous average of 13.3 points per game.
“We weren’t sharing the ball well and individual guys were doing their thing and being selfish,” Watanabe said. “That’s the difference between today and the Temple game.”
The large Nittany Lions lead allowed Joseph to utilize his bench during the final minutes of the game. Sophomore guard Adam Mitola, freshman guard Maceo Jack and freshman forward Javier Langarica combined for 14 minutes of game action and Langarica scored his first-career college basket in the last second of the game.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to play your bench, no matter what the score is or what the situation is, it is a great thing,” Joseph said. “We have some guys who can play and be useful for us. They haven’t quite gotten there.”
The game began heavily in Penn State’s favor. The Nittany Lions led 13–2 after the opening four minutes of the game and made six of their first seven shots from the field. GW made just one of its first five shots.
After an and-one from Watanabe, the Colonials trailed by 11 points, but Penn State quickly stormed ahead with a 10-0 run that included two makes from behind the arc and a transition dunk off of a turnover.
GW did not break the 10-point threshold until the 16th minute when they trailed 37–11.
With four seconds left in the first half, Nittany Lions senior guard Shep Garner hit a three-point shot to give his team a 48–19 lead heading into halftime.
The Colonials started the second half with a 7-0 run that included two baskets from graduate student forward Patrick Steeves, but Penn State kept up its pressure and maintained a large advantage.
GW shot 48.3 percent in the second half compared to 21.7 percent in the first, but the Nittany Lions had already pushed the game out of reach.
“We didn’t give up and we played the whole 20-minute second half,” Watanabe said. “But, if we play that first half, we are not going win against any team.”
The Colonials return to action next Saturday when they host No. 10 Miami (8-0) at the Smith Center. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.