On Saturday, men’s basketball let its afternoon road game against VCU get out of hand.
The Rams’ second-half lead went as high as 27 points, and a large part of the half appeared more lopsided than competitive.
After the loss – GW’s fifth by double digits in less than three weeks – head coach Maurice Joseph chalked up the night’s result to two things, effort and energy.
“We didn’t play hard enough,” Joseph said. “We have got to get back to the drawing board, get better, continue to figure out how we can put 40 minutes of basketball together – even when adversity strikes.”
As the Colonials (9-11, 2-5 A-10) have continued to accumulate conference losses, increasing their effort and “will to compete” has been a consistent point of emphasis that Joseph and players have talked about after every recent contest.
Over GW’s past six games – including five Atlantic 10 losses – opponents have shot 48.3 percent or better and made an average of 5.8 more field goals than the Colonials.
“In terms of tactical things, it’s either you play man-to-man or zone – you have just got to play harder,” Joseph said. “Guys have got to compete at a higher level, it’s really that simple.”
Both Joseph and players have highlighted the team’s lack of competitive spirit after four of the last six contests, but they said there was improvement in two of those games.
But other errors limited the Colonials’ ability to pull ahead. During GW’s only win of January thus far – against George Mason Wednesday at the Smith Center – senior guard Yuta Watanabe led a defensive effort that prevented the Patriots’ top scorer from making an offensive impact. Still, George Mason shot 51.1 percent from the field and caused trouble for GW’s defense with eight three-point makes.
The weekend before, against Richmond on the road, Joseph said his team played with more energy. But the Colonials had difficulty staying competitive in the second half and made numerous unforced errors that led to Spiders runs and a 10-point loss.
Joseph said he was satisfied with the team’s first-half performance on both sides of the ball against VCU, but as the team got tired and started allowing easy baskets, the Colonials’ intensity dissipated.
“It was two vastly different teams from the first half to the second half, and I told our team we got to figure out why that is,” Joseph said. “My coaching didn’t change, our style didn’t change, their style didn’t change. The only variable that changed was our effort and our execution.”
The Colonials have been outscored in the second halves of each of their past four games. Despite finishing with double-digit losses, GW was in competitive contests with Richmond and VCU at the halfway mark.
“What young teams need to understand is when things go well – that’s not the time to relax. It’s when you rev it up and get sharper,” Joseph said. “Today we didn’t get sharper, we got complacent.”
After early scoring success, GW’s starting backcourt – freshman Terry Nolan Jr. and sophomore Jair Bolden – struggled to handle pressure from the Rams. The duo combined for eight turnovers on the game.
“Our guards need to be able to make plays, handle the ball, need to be able to knock down shots,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to figure out as a team – as a program – how to put 40 minutes together.”
The Colonials travel to Olean, N.Y. to take on St. Bonaventure (12-6, 2-4 A-10) next Sunday – with both sides searching for their third conference victory.
The Bonnies showed firepower early in the season with a victory over Syracuse and an eight-game win streak in November and December. The team has two of the league’s top players – senior guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley – but the Bonnies’ recent losses have lowered their expectations since the season’s start.
Joseph said the Colonials will spend the extra days prior to the St. Bonaventure game working on defense, rebounding and turning around their losing momentum.
“We are going to watch some film and have some tough conversations, we are going to challenge our team,” Joseph said. “It is a much-needed break because now we have some time to take care of academics.”
Nolan said he and his teammates know they need to play better and they are ready for an intense week of practice ahead.
“These next few days of practice I think we’re going to be more locked in, more aggressive,” Nolan said. “We know they’re not a less worthy opponent so we have to come in every day in practice and be focused and just be hungry.”