Four players contributed double-digit scoring to lift men’s basketball above Howard in its opening game at the Smith Center Saturday.
The Colonials (1–1) were neck and neck with the Bison (1–1) through most of the first half but turned on the gas to take a lead they never let up. After falling to Towson earlier in the week, GW topped Howard 76–62 to earn its first win of the season.
“I thought we made a big step from Towson to tonight and although they are different opponents, there’s always a point in the game where it could go one way or the other,” head coach Jamion Christian said. “We’ve really stepped up tonight, and we really continued to play as a unit.”
The team created opportunities, taking 61 shots from the field and 32 shots from deep. The squad converted 42.6 percent of its shots from the field but lacked efficiency from the three-point line, netting 28.1 percent of its three-point shots.
Christian opted for a forward-heavy starting lineup, surrounding freshman point guard Jameer Nelson Jr. with four big men – freshman Jamison Battle, sophomore Mezie Offurum, junior Javier Langarica and senior Arnaldo Toro.
He said he wanted to experiment with different lineups during the first games of the season to improve the team’s performance later in the season.
“I think we have a lot of guys that can help this team win and sometimes you just need a little bit of a jolt, something a little bit different,” Christian said. “We made some adjustments.”
In the first half, GW struggled to hit shots from the field, going 2-of-9 in the first four minutes. But the squad bounced back, going on a five-point run to end the half, bumping its field goal percentage to 37.5 percent to start the second frame.
Free throws and defensive stops kept GW neck and neck with Howard, which led the first half for nearly 10 minutes. The Colonials made seven shots but couldn’t keep up their consistency from the line as the game went on, ending the night netting 15-of-22 free throws.
Battle led the team in scoring in the first frame, securing 14 points and shooting 50 percent from the field and behind the arc. He made his first start of the season after playing 20 minutes off the bench in the team’s loss to Towson.
The Colonials outplayed the Bison in the paint during the second half, scoring eight more points down low. GW’s defense held Howard’s forwards ineffective, and the three big men netted a mere combined nine points.
Howard and GW remained close on the stat sheet, turning the ball over 10 times, scoring 30 points in the paint and netting 10 second-chance points each.
The Colonials’ 10 turnovers were an improvement from the team’s 15 turnovers against Towson. Nelson Jr. said the team’s decrease resulted from trust in his teammates to handle the ball and help him navigate his role at the point.
“I know that I can just trust my teammates and just get them the ball,” Nelson Jr. said. “It’s just that easy with guys that you trust and you love on and off the court.”
A difference came on the fast break. The Colonials monopolized fast break points, scoring 14 points to Howard’s five. GW’s bench was also more influential, notching 19 points, nearly two times more than Towson.
The squad’s defense also took off in the second half, creating stops and nabbing three of the team’s five steals. Despite the defensive strength, the Colonials couldn’t curb senior guard Charles Williams, who put up 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field.
Christian said Offurum, Williams and junior guard Justin Mazzulla kept the ball out of Williams’ hands and worked to limit his opportunities.
“Just speaks to how good a player he is, but that doesn’t speak to how bad our defense was,” Christian said. “We made him really work for it and that’s really what we try to do with good players.”
Toro was the biggest difference-maker for the squad. He went on a tear for the Colonials, scoring 22 points and ripping 18 rebounds from the boards to lead all players. His physicality down low sent him to the charity stripe a team-leading nine times, and he shot at a .750 clip from the field.
Christian said strong post-play and three-point shooting go hand in hand to create space on the floor, which allows the team to gain confidence on the court.
“The three-point shot is highly efficient when you have a great penetrator and great post players,” Christian said. “The ability to space the floor that way and just allow guys to know and be confident.”
The Colonials are back in action Tuesday to take on American at the Smith Center in their second game of their three-game homestand. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.