Men’s basketball drops season opener to Navy as live sports resume amid pandemic

Surrounded by empty arena seats amid the coronavirus pandemic, men’s basketball kicked off the season with a loss to Navy Wednesday.

After more than eight long-awaited months, live GW athletics were back in action with a noticeably different look – head coach Jamion Christian donned a face shield, and players on the bench wore masks and sat on spaced apart chairs. But the Colonials (0-1) weren’t able to complete their triumphant return as the Midshipmen (1-0) never let up their lead and downed the squad 78–71.

“We were just trying to make them indecisive and take the kind of shots you want them to take,” Christian said. “I felt like in moments in the game we did that. When those moments happened, we really turned those into quick baskets. We really just weren’t able to do that enough.”

Prior to the game, Christian shared a statement from the program on Twitter saying “many” members of the team intend to kneel during the national anthem throughout the season to protest systemic racism. The team opted not to kneel during the game against Navy to honor the “unfathomable sacrifices” those in the Navy have made, according to the statement.

The statement added that GW players will take a knee during the anthem for upcoming games in solidarity with “marginalized people.”

Turnovers were a sore spot for the Colonials during their first game. The squad turned the ball over 16 times – 11 of which were committed in the first half – and the Midshipmen turned those mishaps into 20 points. Navy nabbed six steals, but the majority of GW’s turnovers were unforced errors.

“A lot of new faces, a lot of guys settling in here,” Christian said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence that we’ll be fine, and we’ll figure it all out. Definitely some first game jitters there, and you travel and turn the ball over when you have those.”

A trio of sophomores were bright spots in the loss. Sophomore forward Jamison Battle and guards James Bishop and Jameer Nelson Jr. netted a combined 58 points – 81.7 percent of the team’s total offense. In his first game as a Colonial, Bishop netted 20 points and dished out nine of the squad’s 14 assists as the team’s primary ball handler.

After Navy won the opening tip, the Colonials used a 2-3 zone defense through the majority of the contest. Prior to the opener, Christian said the squad would operate a man-to-man defense while keeping zone in its pocket, but he said after the game that he doesn’t see the team “pivoting” from the zone formation.

“We’re just going to keep working on it,” he said. “I believe it’s a great strategy for our team. I think it gives our team something different. I think it allows us to be really good, so we’re going to stick with that and just keep building around it.”

Sophomore forward Tyler Nelson put Navy on the board first with a triple. Battle responded on the opposite end to even the score within the first minute, which was the closest GW ever came to nabbing the lead. Junior guard John Carter Jr. hit his first of four shots from beyond the arc to begin widening the gap. Carter Jr. led his squad with 17 points.

Four minutes in, the Midshipmen went on an eight-point run to expand its lead to 13 before senior guard Maceo Jack stymied the bleeding with a layup. The bucket would be Jack’s sole made basket. A staple in last season’s starting five, Jack came in off the bench in the loss and played 15 minutes, taking just four shots.

The Colonials worked the lead down to one possession after Bishop and junior forward Sloan Seymour pounded triples on back-to-back trips down the court. Carter Jr. netted a triple of his own and junior forward Richard Njoku slammed dunks on consecutive possessions to work the lead back up to double-digits.

The Colonials entered halftime trailing 41–30. Out of the gate in the second half, GW and Navy traded baskets and the Midshipmen’s double-digit lead held steady.

The tide began to turn in the Colonials favor when Bishop collected a long rebound and threw a long, baseball-style pass to a sprinting Battle who smashed the ball through the rim. On the next possession Battle notched a steal and Bishop was fouled on the shot, nailing both his free throws.

Battle tacked on another triple and Nelson Jr. hit a jumper to drag the lead down to four points. But the zone defense left open areas on the floor that Navy capitalized on. The Midshipmen cashed in on mid-range buckets from the free throw line and elbow, stunting GW’s runs and comeback attempts and keeping them at a two-possession distance.

GW ended the game shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep. Navy fired at a .484 clip from the floor and a .435 clip from behind the arc to nab a 78–71 victory.

“Our team will be fine,” Christian said. “We have a great team. We have a lot of great players out there. We’ve just got to settle in, and we’ll do that and we’ll start that process tomorrow.”

The Colonials are still cementing their nonconference schedule, but their next confirmed matchup is tabbed for Dec. 14 against South Carolina at the Smith Center. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.

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