‘We’ve been through a lot’: Men’s basketball readies for tournament after shortened season

Media Credit: File Photo by Zach Brien | Staff Photographer

Men's basketball will limp into the A-10 tournament with a dismal record and reduced roster.

With just eight Atlantic 10 games under its belt, men’s basketball will now turn its attention to the A-10 tournament, where one loss ends the season.

The Colonials (4-11, 3-5 A-10) will enter the tournament as either the No. 11 or No. 12 seed, and they will face either Saint Joseph’s or Fordham. After experiencing a 35-day COVID-19 pause, an ever-changing roster and 10 canceled games, head coach Jamion Christian said his team has earned the opportunity to close out the season on its own terms.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Christian said after the team’s loss to St. Bonaventure. “A lot of teams have been through a lot. I think we’ve been through more than most teams, and we’ve earned the right to finish this thing how we want to finish it. And so let’s get our collective energy in the right place so we can go tackle it, and let’s expect more opportunities after that.”

The last time the squad entered the tournament at the No. 12 spot was during the 2018-19 season. That year’s team won just eight games, including four in conference play. Last season, the squad was seeded No. 11 and bowed out in the first round after a loss to Fordham. The tournament was canceled prior to completion as the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States.

This season, the Colonials have played just a handful of their 13 league opponents – Fordham, Duquesne, VCU, Dayton, Rhode Island, George Mason and St. Bonaventure. In the squad’s conference opener, GW routed Fordham 71–47. But the team has yet to meet with Saint Joseph’s, who holds a 2-11 A-10 record and 3-14 overall record.

GW also saw members of the team leave midseason, and COVID-19 disruptions led to 10 canceled games. After an abysmal 1-6 nonconference slate, the team’s roster shrunk from 16 to 13 as senior guard Maceo Jack, senior forward Ace Stallings and sophomore guard Jameer Nelson Jr. left the team in December. Later in the season, Christian said junior forward Sloan Seymour opted out.

“He’s not going to be joining us for the rest of the year,” Christian said. “We wish him the very best, hoping that he’s doing well, and we know he’s watching and supporting us, but we won’t see him for the remainder of the season.”

Seymour played in 12 games without a start. He shot at a .368 clip from three-point range and averaged 12.3 minutes and 4.3 points per game.

The challenges didn’t let up in the new year. After kicking off conference play with wins over Fordham and Duquesne, men’s basketball was rolling into its league slate near the top of the A-10 standings. But a District-wide curfew after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and a positive test among a staff member in the team’s traveling party sidelined the Colonials for two straight games.

The squad came back a day after the positive test, now armed with junior forward Ricky Lindo Jr., who originally decided to sit out the 2020-21 season but opted to suit up to help his team. Lindo Jr. has since recorded three double-doubles and averages 11 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest.

The Colonials returned to play Jan. 13 for two games but hit another roadblock shortly after when Christian announced he had tested positive for the virus. From there, the team went on a 35-day hiatus, postponing multiple games along the way.

Finally returning to action Feb. 21, the squad notched a win against Rhode Island, but it dropped its subsequent two matchups against George Mason and St. Bonaventure. Christian said his team will take a few days to “refresh” and get ready for the emotional control needed to succeed in the tournament.

“We’ll refresh, mentally, physically first,” he said. “We’ll do a great job of that and then getting prepared, getting ready to play. Conference tournament basketball is all about emotional control and emotional understanding. We will do a great job and be ready to go do that.”

The A-10 tournament, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday, was originally set to start a week later. But COVID-19 disruptions prompted the league to edit its start dates, opting to play the first round through semifinals March 3 through March 6 and the championship game March 14. All games will be played at Richmond and VCU, and Dayton will host the championship.

The adjusted timeline left no room for the Colonials to reschedule its 10 postponed games, leaving the team with just eight conference matchups – the lowest number among all A-10 teams.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, Christian said the tournament opens a clean slate for the team to regroup and get back on track to end the season on the right note.

“Everyone is going to be a little tired, that’s sort of part of it, but you’re going to be playing with adrenaline,” he said. “That’s part of the tournament. That’s the best part of the year. It’s the time of year when magical things happen. It’s a chance for everybody to get their collective energy together in one place and give us the opportunity to win.”

The Colonials will return to action Wednesday to take on either Fordham or Saint Joseph’s. Tipoff is still to be determined, but the squad will open tournament action at VCU’s home court in the Siegel Center.

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