WORCESTER, Mass. – The past two seasons weren’t very memorable for George Washington. The Colonials won a combined 19 games, a total the program was used to having in one season, not two. If the first month and a half of this season is any indication, they aren’t headed for another such season.
Last season was especially indicative of how far the Colonials had fallen. Sure, they were a younger group, but even some younger Colonial teams didn’t go to Hawaii for the Rainbow Classic and lose three straight. They didn’t lose three straight to just anyone: they lost to Vermont by double digits, were crushed by host Hawaii and lost to Coppin State. It started an 11-game losing streak that saw them also lose at Longwood.
A year later, it’s all different. They haven’t had head-scratching losses and have won on the road.
“There’s a lot of things different,” said head coach Karl Hobbs. “Probably the number one thing is the attitude. Obviously, we have a great deal of depth. We’re back to playing the GW style of basketball. We’ve got the athletes and we’ve got the players that are committed to playing that way.”
The Colonials could leave Massachusetts with the same number of wins they had all last season. They will enter Wednesday night’s contest at Harvard with a 9-2 mark, the latest win a 70-68 decision at Holy Cross that showed some of how this team is growing up. The win also improves them to 5-0 on the road after winning just three games away from the Smith Center last season.
Although the last two years were thought of as rebuilding years, this season’s team isn’t exactly chock full of seasoned veterans. The Colonials have just two seniors and two juniors who play significant minutes, while five of their six freshmen have all played (Daymon Warren has been sidelined with an injury).
The final score of the win over Holy Cross might not impress, but the important thing is what this team did to win. The Colonials jumped out to a 22-6 lead early and later led by as many as 18 in a dominating first half, then had to hold off the Crusaders. Devin Brown got hot from long range for Holy Cross, scoring 17 of his 20 points in the second half, and Adam May followed suit with a couple of deep shots and some Colonial turnovers turned into layups for Holy Cross. Before you knew it, a 14-point halftime lead was down to just three with 7:26 left.
The Colonials responded well, getting the lead back to 11 by scoring the next eight points. The Crusaders came back again and were relentless, pushing them right to the limit. Not only did the Colonials never relinquish the lead, but the Crusaders never had a possession with a chance to tie or take the lead until the final seconds.
That leads to another noteworthy stat from this: the Colonials are now 4-0 in games decided by five points or less.
“I think it helps us mature, these close games,” said senior forward Damian Hollis, who led the Colonials with 19 points. “We learn how to close out games.”
While Hollis has been the steady senior leader, sophomore Tony Taylor has been the steady hand running the offense. Although they try to play fast, Taylor doesn’t force things that aren’t there and it shows, as he has a 2.4 assist/turnover ratio on the season. He puts up these numbers on a team that has more turnovers than assists. Taylor has plenty of good options for passing the ball, as 11 players average double-digit minutes and no player averages over 30 per game. Eight different players have scored in double figures in at least one game thus far, which speaks to the depth Hobbs spoke of.
Helping in a big way are the freshmen. All five who have played have produced, and each, as Hobbs noted, has scored in double figures at least once. Lasan Kromah starts and is second on the team in scoring, while several others play key minutes. Dwayne Smith had played limited minutes until the last two games, both of which have been double figure scoring games.
“The good part is that (Smith) works hard every day, and all of these guys are getting an opportunity to play and every game they’re getting better,” Hobbs said.
Hollis, Hermann Opoku and redshirt junior Travis King are the only players in the program who were around the last time George Washington was in the NCAA Tournament. They were there when the Colonials made a big run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament in 2007, and have since been around for two seasons of struggle. It looks like it won’t be a third if the early going is any indication.
“The energy is always there, the attitude is good,” said Hollis. “It feels like the team my freshman year.”