Men’s basketball takes notes in string of losses to top teams in the nation

Media Credit: File Photo by Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla jumps for a ball along with a Virginia forward during a men's basketball game last week.

Men’s basketball has battled and fallen to two of the top-ranked teams in the country in the last week.

While the Colonials (0–5) lost their games against No. 4 Virginia and No. 18 Michigan by at least 19 points, they came away seeing what they need to work on to compete against teams that employ a tough defense and three-point shooting offense.

The Colonials’ second-half improvements and late-game runs show the team could have the capacity to keep up with some of the toughest opponents they will face this season, but have a long way to go to string together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball.

The Colonials have yet to win a game this season, but these matches have shown head coach Maurice Joseph glimpses of what his team is capable of on offense and defense.

“These last two games playing the quality opponents that we played, we will look back to this in conference play and I think we’ll be more battle tested because of these two games and because of the level that we’re playing,” Joseph said after the game against Michigan Saturday.

No. 4 Virginia
GW kicked off its top-tier run facing off against No. 4 Virginia Sunday, and while the scoreboard favored the Cavaliers 76–57 – GW managed to outscore Virginia 40–34 in the final frame.

Virginia’s signature pack-line defense – a variation on man-to-man that sees all players except the one guarding the ball sticking close to the paint on the defensive end – wreaked havoc on the Colonials, forcing a team that averages 31.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc to take shots from the perimeter.

File photo by Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Redshirt junior guard DJ Williams follows through on a free-throw shot during GW’s away game against UVA.

Joseph said his team handled in-game adjustments to take advantage of the space Virginia offered from playing a condensed defense. Last season, Virginia held opponents to 38.0 percent shooting from the field, but the Colonials ended the night shooting 40.0 percent on an 18-for-45 clip while picking up 22 points in the paint.

“I learned that we are capable of more around the paint and in the glass, and capable of being tougher,” Joseph said after the game against Virginia.

GW is still allowing opponents to pick up 9.6 more rebounds per game, but the Colonials were able to keep up on the offensive glass – an area of play GW struggled with in past games – against Virginia, matching the team with six offensive rebounds.

“We’re improving especially our weaknesses from past games,” redshirt junior guard DJ Williams said after the game against Virginia last Sunday. “I know giving up a lot of offensive rebounds was one of our struggles the last two games, and I think we did a better job today against a bigger team so we just have to build on that.”

No. 18 Michigan
The Colonials could not hold onto their early-game momentum against Virginia, but on Saturday they came out gunning against No. 18 Michigan, overcoming an 18-point deficit in the first half to get within six points of the Wolverines’ lead.

Michigan sped ahead to secure an 84–61 win, but the Colonials managed to outscore their opponent 16–3 in the final five minutes of the game.

The Colonials first-half performance showed GW is capable of stifling a hot three-point shooting team, but there are still holes in their transition defense.

GW limited the Wolverines to five-made three-point shots in the first half, but the Colonials were burned in the second half from beyond the arc, giving up 10 three-point shots while being limited to just three on their end.

Joseph said the team’s ability to make multiple stops on the defensive end in transition kept them competitive in the first half, but the Colonials were unable to keep up the offensive momentum in the second half to match their defensive play.

“We were getting stops, we were guarding the three-point line, we were in transition, we were making more shots,” Joseph said.

The Colonials took care of the ball better against Michigan than they had in past games, forcing the Wolverines – a team that averaged 9.3 turnovers per game – to commit 10 turnovers.

GW was also able to put up 30 points in the paint against the Wolverines, who held opponents to an average 18.7 points in the paint per game heading into the matchup. The Colonials’ points-in-paint total is the most Michigan has allowed through its five games this season.

“I believe that our guys are going to continue to grow from these opportunities,” Joseph said after the game against Michigan Saturday.

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