Through the opening 10 games of the season, men’s basketball garnered just two victories – against two teams the Colonials have not lost to in more than 37 years.
At that point in early December, some onlookers may have already called the season a wash. With its worst winning percentage since 1988, five double-digit losses and no one player reliably stressing the opponent’s defense – the young GW team had a bleak finish to its nonconference schedule.
But slowly, over the past six games, the Colonials (5–11, 1–2 A-10) have begun to work through some of their challenges and find strengths in their less-experienced lineup. At times, they have found a rhythm on the offensive end and capitalized on versatile play under the basket – earning a few tightly-contested victories and inching up Atlantic 10 standings.
The team’s 3–3 record in its most recent stretch pales in comparison to the 29-win NIT Championship team just three years ago, but head coach Maurice Joseph and players have gained confidence through their latest incremental – yet noticeable – improvements. With 15 conference games left to play, the coming weeks will weigh whether the Colonials’ developments will keep them competitive and increase their win total, or if the top A-10 talent will provide too much of a challenge for this year’s squad.
“We know it’s conference play. We know it’s going to be gruesome,” sophomore guard Terry Nolan Jr. said after the team’s game against Saint Joseph’s. “We just have to bite down.”
The Colonials turned in double-digit performances in their final three nonconference matches, and at the turn of the new year, GW’s back-to-back victories over American and Saint Joseph’s marked the first time on the season that the Colonials won two matches in a row.
“We’ve grown over the last few weeks,” head coach Maurice Joseph said after the team’s win over Saint Joseph’s. “We’re maturing as a group.”
In GW’s first two conference games against Saint Joseph’s and Dayton, four GW players found themselves in double-digit scoring, including 20-point performances by Nolan and redshirt junior guard DJ Williams. But the Colonials stumbled against Richmond Saturday, turning in the team’s worst shooting night since losing to Vermont on Nov. 28.
“The sting of just losing the way we lost is still very present,” Joseph said after the Richmond game. “But I’m very aware of the progress our team has made.”
A more consistent lineup has aided the Colonials’ success and they have tipped off the last eight games with the same starting five. The team’s leadership on the court was shaken up early on when injuries sidelined starters junior forward Arnaldo Toro and redshirt junior guard Armel Potter and forced the Colonials’ reserves to step up.
Sophomore guard Maceo Jack and sophomore forward Javier Langarica found themselves in the starting lineup together against Towson on Dec. 5, and Joseph has kept them in the starting rotation along with Nolan, Williams and sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla ever since.
Langarica had a breakout performance against Princeton and pulled together a career-best outing against American. Jack has stepped up from beyond the arc and become one of the team’s best sharpshooters, more than doubling his three-point makes from last season.
“From where he was last year, from a confidence standpoint, he’s night and day,” Joseph said. “So he’s grown as a player.”
With new power under the glass, GW has shored up its play and managed three 40-plus rebounding games in its last six outings. Four Colonials grabbed five or more rebounds in the team’s games against Dayton and Saint Joseph’s, and five grabbed five or more boards against American, but no single Colonial has been the solution to Toro’s absence under the glass.
With the Colonials posting better numbers across the board in recent games, the team is seeing tallies in the wins column more regularly, but the team has still stumbled in big ways.
“We’ve got to do a better job of executing, not just sustaining energy,” Joseph said after GW’s loss to Dayton. “Obviously that’s important, but we have to do a good job of sustaining execution.”
Even after turning in their best shooting performance from beyond the arc against Dayton – hitting double-digit numbers from the three-point line for the first time this season – the Colonials were unable to contain a Flyers offense that clawed itself out of a 22-point deficit. GW trailed Richmond by three points at halftime before going 0-for-11 from the three-point line in the final 20 minutes of play and conceding its 11th defeat of the year.
“We’ve got to play both halves,” Williams said after the game against Dayton. “If you’re up first half, we have to come out even better second half, or vice versa.”
The Colonials return to action Wednesday when they hit the road to take on La Salle. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m.