Following an improved season, men’s basketball fell flat in their conference tournament opener against Massachusetts March 10 at Capital One Arena.
The Colonials (12-18, 8-9 A-10) fell 99-88 to the Minutemen (15-16, 7-11 A-10), who rode hot shooting to a resounding victory in a game they never trailed. The Colonials gave up the most points it had given up in regulation of a game – 99 – since a 103-77 loss to Richmond on Feb. 21, 2018 and the fourth most points ever scored in an Atlantic 10 tournament game.
Redshirt sophomore TJ Weeks Jr. paced the Minutemen early, scoring all 15 of his points in the first half.
“The story of the game today, they played a lot better than us, made a lot of plays we didn’t make,” Head Coach Jamion Christian said.
GW had no answers for Massachusetts from 3-point range early, as the Minutemen started out 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. In the last matchup between the teams, Massachusetts made four of their first five shots from 3-point range but went 4-of-22 for the rest of the game.
But that didn’t prove to be the case this time around, as the Minutemen continued their bombardment from deep throughout the game, finishing 12-of-29.
“All year long when we had a moment to step into and an opponent to play against, we just did not step up as a group,” Christian said. “And we’re one of the best teams in the nation defending the three. To give up nine 3s in the first half is completely unacceptable. And that’s not who we are.”
The slow start proved too much for the Colonials to overcome, and they looked sloppy on both ends of the floor throughout the first half. At halftime, GW had 12 turnovers and Massachusetts parlayed those takeaways into 21 points off turnovers at the half.
“I think we played faster than we had to,” sophomore guard Joe Bamisile said. “I think that has a lot to do with our season. It was more on our end than theirs. And I think turning the ball over is just something we have to work on.”
The biggest issue for the Colonials was defense. GW let up a staggering 56 points in the first half, the most they’ve conceded and the most the Minutemen have scored in a half this season.
“Once they started getting wide open 3s, they were able to attack, get in the lane, finish around, get switches, get matchups that was favorable for them,” junior guard James Bishop said. “It’s super frustrating when you work on something for three or four days and then come out and don’t execute the right way to get the win.”
By halftime, the Minutemen led 56-36.
“After we spotted them 20 points, it didn’t matter how well we played in the second half,” Christian said. “We were going to have to play exceptionally to have a chance to come back.”
Freshman guard Brayon Freeman, who was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, led the team at halftime with 12 points, five assists, a steal and a rebound.
Weeks spearheaded the Minutemen attack, but the team had two other players with double-digit scoring in the opening 20 minutes. Junior guard Noah Fernandes had 12 points while graduate student forward Trent Buttrick had 11 points at the break.
Fernandes finished the game with a career high 29 points along with seven assists, seven steals and a rebound.
Coming out of halftime the Colonials stepped up offensively behind improved contributions from their leading scorers during the regular season, both of whom were named to the All-Atlantic 10 Third Team earlier this week.
Bishop started the half off with five straight points before finishing the game with 15 points, 10 of which came in the second half.
Bamisile exploded in the second period for 17 points. The Virginia Tech transfer also had five rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist, ending with 25 points in his twelfth 20-plus point game of the season.
Freeman played an important role in an effort to raise the tempo, pushing the ball down the floor as they tried to quickly amass points to close the gap. The D.C. native finished off a stellar freshman campaign with an 18-point, seven-assist, two-rebound, one-steal performance, despite having six turnovers on the night in his seventh consecutive double-digit scoring game and 10th game recording over five assists.
But the defense remained porous for the Colonials, ultimately preventing a meaningful comeback. The Colonials trimmed the deficit to the low double digits approaching the final media timeout but were unable to get it much closer due to their inability to get stops on the defensive end.
“I felt we played inexperienced,” Christian said. “We played young, emotionally. And we allowed the emotions of the game to dictate how fast we could play physically and how smart we could play.”
In his final game in Buff and Blue, senior forward Ricky Lindo fouled out with 4:52 remaining but not before recording one final double double. The Maryland transfer finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double double of the season and 10th of his GW career.
Although the Colonials’ season came to an unceremonious and disappointing end, the team took clear steps forward in Christian’s third and final season at the helm. The team earned the most league victories since the 2016-17 season and placed multiple players on the All-Conference teams for the first time since the same year despite being picked to finish 13th in the A-10 preseason poll.
“They picked us last,” Christian said. “I didn’t think we would finish last, but no coach that’s picked last thinks they’re going to finish last. But I knew the talent that we had on the roster.”