Men’s basketball entered Wednesday’s matchup against Massachusetts without a single win in February.
The team was riding a four-game losing streak but turned in one of its best shooting nights of the year to pull off a win. The Colonials (8-18, 4-9 A-10) shot 55.1 percent from the field on a 27-for-49 clip en route to a 79–67 victory over the Minutemen (9-17, 2-11 A-10) at the Smith Center.
Heading into the contest, Massachusetts was coming off a win over Davidson, the No. 2 team in the Atlantic 10, and a 75-point showing against George Mason in the following game. But the Colonials held Massachusetts to 40.4 percent shooting and outrebounded the Minutemen 31–30 while forcing 13 turnovers.
“To come out with the momentum they’ve had in terms of the way they’re playing and to play the way we played tonight and win in the fashion that we won, I think that’s a really positive sign for us,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “Now we got to ride this wave and springboard off it going into the weekend.”
Four Colonials chipped in double-digit scoring efforts in the win – led by sophomore guard Maceo Jack, who added 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting and a team-leading seven rebounds. Redshirt junior guard Armel Potter turned in his best shooting game since the team’s season opener against Stony Brook in November, tallying 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting and dishing out four assists while committing no turnovers.
“Our defense stepped up, we rebounded well so all across the board we did a great job in those aspects and that led to us getting the victory,” Jack said.
Redshirt junior guard DJ Williams and sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla contributed 15 points and 12 points, respectively. Sophomore guard Terry Nolan Jr. was unavailable for the game due to a violation of team rules, according to an athletic department spokesman.
“The game plan was pretty simple,” Potter said. “We knew they were going to be in the gaps and waiting on help defense so I just tried to get in the paint, one dribble and pass it out and make the simple play and it played out well for us.”
GW committed just nine total turnovers while taking advantage of Minutemen giveaways. The Colonials scored 17 points-off-turnovers.
Sophomore guard Carl Pierre led the Minutemen with 14 points and went 4-for-9 from the perimeter.
“Our shot selection, ball security, all the things we talk about – we did a good job in those areas,” Joseph said.
The Minutemen hopped out to a quick 6–2 lead to open the game, but back-to-back-to-back three-point makes courtesy of Jack and Williams reversed the advantage and put the Colonials up 11–9.
After a free throw from Williams, Massachusetts responded with a five-point swing of its own to grab a two-point lead and stymie GW’s momentum – but it was met by a more significant counterpunch. The Colonials cracked open an 18–4 run over the following seven minutes and 16 seconds of play to take a commanding 30–18 lead with 6:58 remaining before halftime.
“We just made shots, we got stops, our zone was clicking,” Joseph said. “We recognized personnel pretty well in terms of not closing out overzealously to non-shooters. We made it tough to get the ball into their big kids.”
At the half, the Colonials held an 18 point cushion with two Colonials – Potter and Jack – in double-digit scoring with 10 and 12 points, respectively, to their names.
The Colonials went into the locker room shooting 66.7 percent from the floor on a 14-for-21 clip while limiting Massachusetts to 37.0 percent shooting in the half and outrebounding the Minutemen 15–10.
Just four Minutemen were in the scoring column after the first 20 minutes of play, with freshman forward Samba Diallo leading Massachusetts with seven points and two rebounds.
The Colonials came out of the locker room riding momentum from the first half. A 7-2 run by GW ballooned its lead to 45–27 with 16:25 left in the half.
The Minutemen improved to 43.3 percent shooting in the second half and went 12-for-13 from the free throw line to tally 42 points in the final frame, but GW’s offense was able to build on its momentum from the first half to keep the score out of Massachusetts reach.
“A good start in the second half was big for us, too,” Joseph said. “I thought we fouled too much and they shot 12 free throws but overall we did a good enough job guarding which is what we needed to do.”
The Minutemen came within eight points of GW’s lead 60–52 midway through the half after sinking a pair of free throws but the Colonials pieced together a 14-3 run punctuated by free throws from Mazzulla to give GW its largest lead of the night 74–55 with 4:37 left in the game.
“Our guys are really spirited and that’s great for me as a coach because you worry about that,” Joseph said. “You haven’t won as many games as you wanted to win but tonight shows we’re still connected, we’re still together and that’s a really positive sign for us.”
The Colonials return to action Saturday against VCU on the road. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.