After hitting a bumpy conference stretch to close out the regular season, men’s basketball is heading to Brooklyn, New York for its first Atlantic 10 Tournament under head coach Jamion Christian.
The Colonials (12-19, 6-12 A-10) are set to face No. 14 seed Fordham (8-22, 2-16 A-10) for the third time this season in the first round of the tournament. Fordham is ranked second to last in the conference, finishing with just two conference wins, but the Rams’ two lone conference wins came against GW on Jan. 22 and March 4.
“Now we get the chance to go let it all hang out here, and we have a great opportunity against a really good Fordham team that’s beaten us twice,” Christian said. “We’re going to be motivated to play against them.”
Despite their low win margin, Fordham boasts one of the best statistical defenses in the conference. The Rams’ defense leads the A-10 with an average of 62 points given up per game. They top undefeated Dayton, who averages 64.5 points allowed per game.
The Rams were able to flip the script on the Colonials each time the teams squared off. In both matchups this season, Fordham orchestrated a defensive lockdown against GW’s main weapon – three-point shooting – and thwarted GW’s own strong defense against three-point attempts.
Christian said combating the Rams’ defensive approach and distributing the ball effectively will make way for opportunities on offense. Fordham recorded 18 steals against the Colonials, narrowly matching GW’s number of assists (21) over the course of two games.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Christian said. “We haven’t taken care of the ball against them. They’re really stingy defensively, so we have to take care of the ball and keep it moving and give ourselves the opportunity to shoot.”
The Colonials made only 17.9 percent of their three-point attempts during the first tussle with the Rams, marking their second-worst outside shooting performance all season. GW improved slightly in the teams’ second matchup, converting 21.7 percent of shots from beyond the arc.
The Colonials have two players ranked in the top 25 most accurate three-point shooters in the conference – freshman forward Jamison Battle and junior guard Maceo Jack – while Fordham has none. Battle and Jack sit at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in three-point field goals per game. The pair average 2.8 and 2.6, respectively.
Christian said allowing his key shooters to be aggressive and get good looks is a key part of GW’s offensive approach.
“When Jamison Battle’s getting 10, 20 shots a night, I think we have a good chance offensively,” Christian said. “When Maceo stays aggressive, we have a good chance offensively, so just trying to encourage our guys to be aggressive and let the ball fly.”
The first time the squads faced each other this season, Fordham drained nine triples in 20 attempts for a 45 three-point percentage. GW’s perimeter defense improved in the team’s second meeting and allowed the Rams to connect on 4-of-12 from behind the arc.
Historically, the Colonials had the edge over the Rams. Barring the past three times the teams met, GW hadn’t lost to Fordham since 2012, riding a nine-game win streak during that span.
A trio of players served as Fordham’s main offensive producers during the regular season. Senior guard Antwon Portley, sophomore guard Jalen Cobb and redshirt junior forward Chuba Ohams all average double-digit performances on the season. In GW and Fordham’s first game in January, Cobb put up 22 points with 5-of-7 shooting beyond the arc.
In their second meeting, a separate trio of Fordham players proved to be scoring threats. Junior guard Josh Colon, freshman forward Joel Soriano and senior guard Erten Gazi all contributed double-digit performances. Soriano notched a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
“Defensively, just be ready to guard, ready to defend,” Christian said. “Those are sharp-shooters. They’ve out-dueled us twice. I’m excited for the opportunity to go against them one more time.”
GW enters the championship looking to prevent history from repeating itself. For the second season in a row, the Colonials ended the regular season with a five-game losing streak. After a win against Massachusetts, the 2018-19 GW squad was ousted by George Mason in the second round.
If GW takes down Fordham Wednesday, the Colonials will advance to the second round and take on No. 6 seeded Duquesne. The Colonials fared better against the Dukes, earning a season split. In their most recent game, GW won 70–67, firing at a .481 clip from the field and a .450 clip from deep.
The Colonials will kick off their run for the 2019-20 A-10 Tournament crown Wednesday in Brooklyn, New York. Tipoff is slated for 3:30 p.m.