Men’s basketball has yet to win a game this month.
The Colonials (8-10, 1-4 A-10) have gone 0-4 and fallen to the bottom of the Atlantic 10 after finishing December with a three-game winning streak.
During the stretch, they have dealt with scoring difficulties and challenges handling the ball against aggressive matchups. But most importantly, GW’s defense has been unable to compete at the level of its last four opponents.
“Our guys have gotten away from doing some of the things we were doing well,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “We have got to figure out how to get back to it.”
In victories over Harvard and Saint Joseph’s just three weeks ago, the Colonials had two of their best defensive performances of the season – holding the Crimson and Hawks to 28.1 and 36.8 percent shooting, respectively.
“The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores and they become juniors and they become seniors.”
Since then, opponents have scored an average of 75 points against GW on a combined 53.2 percent clip – handing the Colonials four of their seven double-digit losses of the season.
Following the team’s biggest loss of the year to Davidson Wednesday, Joseph said he challenged his players to pick up their effort and intensity in the next couple games.
The Colonials returned to the court at Richmond this weekend and allowed the Spiders to shoot a dominating 58.0 percent from the floor in a 10-point GW loss. After the contest, Joseph said his players worked harder and showed more enthusiasm than in the last game, but their mistakes still outweighed their successes.
“We have showed it in spurts, but spurts aren’t enough,” Joseph said. “With a young team, it’s hard to get 40 minutes of basketball together, we still haven’t done it all year.”
With 13 conference games remaining in the regular season, the Colonials have time to turn it around. But sitting in second-to-last place in both points scored and opponents shooting percentage is a tough place to start – especially given a roster where only one player, senior guard Yuta Watanabe, has more than a year of experience in the A-10.
Joseph said his team’s youth – with four freshmen and sophomores averaging at least 10 minutes per game – has led to errors and mid-season difficulties that more experienced teams don’t have to tackle.
“We have some young guys making a lot of young mistakes,” Joseph said. “The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores and they become juniors and they become seniors.”
But players said they remain confident in their ability to turn it around. Graduate student forward Patrick Steeves remembers when the Colonials dropped three straight games last January and still finished 10-8 in the conference and grabbed a win in the A-10 tournament.
He said the squad just needs to move beyond the losses and place an emphasis on building a strong enough team to succeed later in the season.
“We are 1-4 now, so unless we sweep the rest of the conference we have to focus on getting better and making a run in March,” Steeves said.
In order to alter GW’s pattern of back-to-back losses, Joseph said that changes needed to occur – which could include lineup or minute adjustments.
These alterations would mean a different look for a Colonials team that features four starters who average more than 30 minutes per game. Joseph has looked to freshman guard Justin Mazzulla more often lately to play a smaller and more athletic lineup, but he rarely goes beyond his seven-man rotation.
This year’s first change in GW’s starting lineup came against Davidson. Joseph went with graduate student forward Bo Zeigler instead of sophomore forward Arnaldo Toro and stuck with the 6-foot-6 South Florida transfer against Richmond.
In the two games, Zeigler went 10-for-16 from the field and scored 23 points – offering the Colonials an athletic presence on the interior.
“We are pretty good at playing inside out,” Steeves said. “As a team we are starting to get a better feel for how Bo plays. He’s fast and he can take guys off the dribble.”
“This is a process and sometimes the process is hard.”
GW hosts George Mason Wednesday for its first of two matchups against the Patriots over the next four weeks. The Colonials are 18-2 all-time against their local rival and have never lost against them at home, but this year’s matchup at the Smith Center may offer more of a challenge.
George Mason (9-9, 3-2 A-10) has just won two consecutive games, scoring more points per game, grabbing more rebounds and shooting a higher percentage than GW has on the year.
Joseph said the Colonials need to learn from their losses and recent defensive lapses if they want to start winning games again.
“This is a process and sometimes the process is hard. We have got to fail forward,” Joseph said. “If we are going to fail, we are going to lose a game and understand what we need to do better.”