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Taylor carries Colonials to season-opening victory

Senior guard Tony Taylor jumps to drain a shot during GW's 64-48 victory Friday night. Jordan Emont | Assistant Photo Editor

Senior guard Tony Taylor was matter-of-fact after GW’s 64-48 victory over University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The Colonials were walking away from a victory in the opening game of their season, and it fell perfectly in line with new head coach Mike Lonergan’s goal of remaining strong at home. But it was also a victory where GW struggled to find a commanding offensive front, held to just 38.5 percent shooting on the night, and Taylor wasn’t about to hide behind a win, speaking honestly as he examined the night’s statistics.

“I think, sometimes, we’re going to miss shots. And that’s what happened today,” Taylor said. “We weren’t really hot today and it’s going to happen, but there’s also going to be days where we hit a lot of shots.”

Taylor lead the way for a stale Colonials offense Friday night, posting 20 points and six rebounds on the night. He was the only GW player to score in double digits, a sign of the team’s struggles at the net. At times, it seemed the bounces just weren’t going GW’s way, the team failing to hit jumpers despite open looks and ample time.

Graduate student forward Jabari Edwards, with eight points and four blocks, and freshman forward John Kopriva, with three points and six rebounds, were the biggest presences in paint for the Colonials, providing solid play at the post. But struggles at the net underlined the importance of GW’s frontcourt play, and the team couldn’t consistently convert, failing to implement the inside-out pattern they needed on the night. Missing, too, was a strong presence in the perimeter, the Colonials shooting just 3-for-12 on their trey attempts, an absence Lonergan said the team needs to address, as well as their struggles at the line.

The challenge, Lonergan said, was facing the zone defense the Hawks presented, forcing GW to push through traffic on each drive to the net. The Colonials are going to need to develop better penetration into the paint, their head coach said, and find strong post players to get touches. To beat a zone, Lonergan wants to see his team to be unselfish, and focus on finding each other good shots.

“We’re going to see a lot of zone, and that’s one thing I worry about. We’re going to have to make some shots,” Lonergan said. “We’re going to have to make some open shots.”

Offensive struggles happen, Lonergan added, but they underline the importance a solid defensive presence. And though he was unhappy with the Colonials 15 turnovers on the night, saying that many of them came from a desire to make a “highlight play,” it was GW’s solid defensive effort that kept it in the game. UMES was held to just 29 percent shooting on the night, and the Colonials forced 24 turnovers, pressuring the Hawks and forcing sloppy play.

GW’s defense was at its peak in the opening of the second half, when the team kept the Hawks from scoring in large chunks at a time. It was a burst of strength brought on by a halftime switch in defensive front from a full-court press to a 1-3-1 scheme, wrought by Taylor’s admission that the team is still learning to play and implement the press. The switch was evidence of Lonergan’s focus on coaching and adjusting within the game, his players said, trying to revamp the game plan to answer the play on the court.

“Coach Lonergan, he’s not really a screamer. If you come out, he’s going to tell you what you did wrong and put you right back in,” junior guard Lasan Kromah said. “I think he made a lot of adjustments and I don’t think he was too angry, but he sure made sure that we know we have to play a lot better for Cal on Sunday.”

Graduate student forward Jabari Edwards stretches over his UMES opponent as he drives to the net. Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor

Still, on a day when his offense was struggling, Lonergan wanted to see an even stronger defensive effort from his team. Emphasizing the importance of being quick to get back on defense, particularly after scoring, Lonergan pointed to the need for players to step up in the backcourt when they’re having an off night at the basket, highlighting Kromah, who went 3-for-12, earning seven points, as a player who needs to shake off shooting struggles and be a solid defensive presence.

Lonergan pointed to senior forward Aaron Ware, who had a strong two-way game, with nine points and eight rebounds, as an example of the sort of full-court play he wants to see. The team should be going inside more, trying to push the ball out and drawing defenders away from shooters, Lonergan said. He wants to see more rebounds than the 42 the Colonials posted on the night, determined not to let an opponent best GW on the boards.

And Lonergan really wants to see more energy like the Colonials got out of the switch to the 1-3-1 and from the packed Smith Center. GW will need that energy and drive to continually post the strong, consistent performances it will need to be successful, he said.

“I learned that we’re really going to have to play hard for 40 minutes if we want to have a good season,” Lonergan said. “If we play with high-level intensity, we can really hide a lot of our weaknesses.”

It’s a quick turn-around for Lonergan and his team to head to California tomorrow, just in time for Sunday’s game against the nationally ranked Bears. It’s time for the leaders of the team to step up and renew GW’s focus, Lonergan said, especially Taylor, who had the strongest Colonials performance on the night.

“He needs to be a leader now, he needs to pick up Lasan. Lasan looks like his dog died now, hey, it’s one game in, it’s about winning and everybody should be happy. I wanted to coach better, I’m sure he wanted to play better, but we’ve got to bounce back now,” Lonergan said. “We’ve got a chance to play a nationally ranked opponent on national TV, so I think it’s a great opportunity for these guys.”

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