Before Saturday’s game against No. 6 Miami, men’s basketball had hosted only one other top-10 team over the past three seasons – and they won.
But instead of shadowing the Colonials’ 2015 upset over then-No. 6 Virginia, GW’s first half looked to mirror last week’s blowout loss against Penn State. Miami led by as many as 21 points in the opening 20 minutes and the Colonials were shooting just 18.5 percent from the field before the break.
A different GW team showed up in the second half as the Colonials chipped away at the Miami lead and made a lively Smith Center crowd believe a comeback win was in store. However, the undefeated Hurricanes (9-0) never went completely cold and held on to defeat the Colonials (5-6) 59–50.
“Especially in the second half, I thought we did a good job,” senior guard Yuta Watanabe said. “They are obviously one of the best teams in the nation and one of the best defensive teams, but we just couldn’t make shots.”
Sophomore guard Jair Bolden led GW in scoring, but the team’s season-low total came as a result of a spread out attack. Bolden added 13 points and three assists, while Watanabe and freshman guard Terry Nolan Jr. combined for 19 points and 14 rebounds.
The Colonials’ 30.2 percent shooting was also a season low and they made only four of their 18 attempts from behind the three-point arc.
Joseph said his roster’s poor shooting performance was less because of strategic troubles and missed opportunities. At multiple occasions, players including graduate student forward Patrick Steeves, Bolden and sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro all missed shots they are expected to make.
“It was just a weird shooting night overall,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “Toro is great at that pick-and-pop slot area three – he is great at that shot – he airballs two of them.”
Now, in each of their last three losses, the Colonials have outscored their opponents in the second half. Instead, slow starts to recent contests have plagued GW’s ability to compete in the remaining minutes.
“Our guys are starting to see our potential if we start games the way we talk about starting, full of energy, bouncing off the walls, being sharp offensively and passing up good shots for great shots,” Joseph said.
The Colonials’ second-half comeback was produced in part by a 9-0 run to spark the team’s energy and a strong zone defense that held the Hurricanes from pulling the difference out of reach. GW brought the game within seven points twice.
Although the Colonials made only one major run, their defense slowed the action down and limited the majority of Miami’s inside chances in the second half. The game remained within single-digits for a sizeable portion of the frame.
“We knew we wouldn’t win in a track meet against this team,” Joseph said. “So the plan was to really slow them down and our goal was to shoot more than they did.”
The Hurricanes scored the first points of the game and got off to a hot start. After the first five minutes, Miami led 8–2 and was holding the Colonials to just 1-for-7 shooting from the field.
The difference expanded quickly as the Hurricanes kept hitting their three-point shots and GW remained unsuccessful from the field. Even after Nolan sunk the only Colonials’ three of the first half, a deep shot from the Hurricanes secured the visiting team’s 10-point lead.
The Colonials gave up a number of unforced turnovers in a stretch where Miami went on a 16-2 run and controlled the entire pace of play. Hurricanes sophomore forward Dewan Heull connected on a hook shot that gave his team a 32-11 lead with less than three minutes to go in the first half.
Free throws from Watanabe and a wide-open layup from graduate student forward Bo Zeigler allowed GW to go into halftime, trailing 32–15, with more momentum than the team had for the majority of the game at that point.
To start the second half, short jump shots from Steeves, Toro and Watanabe sparked a Colonials run. A free throw from Bolden capped off nine unanswered points and shrunk Miami’s advantage to 35–28 after six minutes of play in the second frame.
The two sides traded baskets for the majority of the rest of the game, with the scoreboard’s margin hovering around 10 points. Just following an under-eight minute media timeout, Bolden sunk a three to bring GW within eight points, but three of the next four baskets went to Miami.
The Hurricanes extended their advantage to 14 points with two minutes of play remaining and appeared to have the win locked up, but two jumpers from Bolden and a Watanabe free throw gave the Colonials hope, trailing 53–45, with a minute to play.
In the last 46 seconds of action, GW got up four shots and took a pair of free throws, but the game clock ended along with the crowd’s dream of a last-second upset.
The Colonials will return to the Smith Center Wednesday night when they host New Hampshire at 7 p.m.