When men’s basketball beat Massachusetts 79–67 last month, head coach Maurice Joseph said he wanted his team to be playing its best game in the last six contest of the team’s Atlantic 10 schedule.
The win against Massachusetts kicked off that final six-game stretch for the Colonials, but instead of peaking before the postseason like Joseph intended – the Colonials are skidding into A-10 Championship play.
The Colonials (8-22, 4-13 A-10) have gone 0-4 in their last four games and three of the games have been double-digit losses. The Colonials are losing by an average of 18.0 points per contest and shooting 36.1 percent from the field, down from their 40.8 shooting percentage on the year.
GW’s 28-point loss to VCU Feb. 23 and its 27-point loss to Rhode Island Feb. 26 are the second and third largest deficits the Colonials have lost by this season, and when Rhode Island defeated the squad, it was the first time the Colonials had recorded 20 losses on the season since 2012.
Joseph said the team’s most recent string of losses can be attributed to a lack of focus on the court and toughness on the glass.
“We gotta make shots, we can’t turn it over, we gotta rebound,” Joseph said after the team’s loss to St. Bonaventure Saturday. “Scouting report stuff is not going to help you with that, it’s toughness and will to win. We need to get that going down the stretch here because that’s where we’re losing some games. It’s just toughness and focus.”
With a lack of size on the post, Joseph expected the Colonials to battle through mismatches on the block. But in their last three outings, GW has given up an average of 29.0 points in the paint per contest – six more points than the Colonials have been averaging in the paint.
The Colonials notched a season-high 50 rebounds against Fordham Wednesday, nudging the Colonials’ average rebounds per game in the four-game stretch ahead of their opponents with 36.5 boards per game. Before the loss to Fordham, GW was being outrebounded by opponents.
Sophomore forward Javier Langarica grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds on the night against Fordham Wednesday, but GW’s cold offense prevented the Colonials from taking the win. The Colonials ended the night shooting 32.3 percent from the field, its lowest shooting night since GW’s game against Richmond on Jan. 12.
“We just didn’t have the size and toughness down there, down the stretch, and the will to go make winning plays,” Joseph said. “That’s what the game came down to.”
The Colonials have struggled to play a consistent 40 minutes of basketball and were outscored 139–92 in the second half in their last four games.
Against VCU and St. Bonaventure, the Colonials were within six points of the Rams and three points of the Bonnies at the halftime break before allowing them to break away with 42-point and 37-point second halves, respectively.
“Basically what we want to see is everybody play a full game, a whole 40 minutes not having mental lapses, be a little more tough on defense and rebound,” sophomore guard Maceo Jack said after the game against VCU. “That’s just what we want to see from all of us collectively together.”
The Colonials were also limited to 17 points in the final 20 minutes of play on 5-for-25 shooting against the Rams and gave away 17 points on 15 turnovers – the same issue that derailed GW in its first matchup against VCU last month.
“It is definitely frustrating,” Jack said after the loss to VCU. “It’s something we gotta figure out when we get back to the drawing board and get back to film sessions. It’s definitely an issue we gotta figure out.”
On offense, Jack has continued to put up consistent points for the Colonials – averaging 13.25 points per contest in the last four games – and recently poured out 28 points against the Bonnies to lead the floor. But leading scorer redshirt guard DJ Williams has been relatively quiet in the last two games after putting up 22 points against VCU. He has put up 22 points total in the team’s games against Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure.
“Outside of Maceo, we just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Joseph said after the game against St. Bonaventure. “2-for-12, 1-for-6, 4-for-9 is not awful but we needed one or two more guys to really play well.”
Rhode Island – the worst three-point shooting team in the A-10 – held Williams and Jack to 14 points collectively and held the Colonials to 0-for-11 shooting from the perimeter while sinking 10 three-point shots of their own.
“We gotta be overall tougher,” Joseph said after the game against Rhode Island. “We gotta have more collective grit.”
With one game left in the regular season before A-10 Championship play begins, Joseph said the team will use the next few days to work out pain points on the court.
“Every loss is hard to handle but you gotta battle back, that’s the beauty of college basketball,” Joseph said. “The opportunities to get better, the opportunities to go battle, the opportunities to get your lunch money back. We got some of ours taken in the second half, we gotta go fight for it back.”
The Colonials return to action Saturday at 2 p.m. in their final home game of the season against George Mason.