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The GW Hatchet

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GW falls at Saint Louis for second straight A-10 defeat

David Pellom, men's basketball, Temple
Then-sophomore forward David Pellom drives to the net last season. Pellom paced GW offensively against Saint Louis Saturday. | File Photo

Storming onto the court in the Chaifetz Arena Saturday night, the Colonials snapped a trend that had plagued them for most of the season.

After forming a pattern of sluggish first halves, GW started play against Saint Louis with renewed intensity, refuting the challenges previously posed by game before the break. But after rapid back-and-forth play to open the first, the Colonials slumped, allowing the Billikens an 11-3 run to close the half.

And in a frustrating twist, the slide continued after halftime, GW (5-10, 0-2 A-10) stalling in the second half before falling in its second league contest to Saint Louis, 78-56.

“Whatever reason, the intensity wasn’t there. Saint Louis is a very good team, we get in these ruts where we stop scoring, we don’t make up for it in the defensive end,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We let them go on a run and we just don’t answer it at all.”

The Colonials took the court with a 44.4 shooting percentage on the first, capping a 10-4 run that gave them a slim lead with a resounding dunk from junior forward David Pellom. Much of the team’s manpower came from junior forward Dwanye Smith, who made just his second start of the year after a commanding performance against St. Bonaventure. Both Smith and Pellom ended the half with a team-high eight points, seven of Smith’s coming in the first five minutes of play.

The two teams dueled for the rest of the half. Senior guard Tony Taylor and sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic combined for back-to-back three pointers that capped a mid-half 8-0 run for GW, but Saint Louis was determined to answer. After Mikic’s shot sunk through the net, the Billikens closed the half on an 11-3 run, sending the Colonials into the break down seven.

“We were following the game plan in the first half,” Lonergan said. “[Smith’s] got to give us a little more defensively, but he is scoring, so he’s showing sings of being the player he was, so he’s going to continue to play.”

GW’s shooting troubles continued when they returned for the second.  Though junior guard Lasan Kromah hit a jumper to open scoring after the break, the Colonials went cold after his basket. Saint Louis used a 10-3 run to put GW in a substantial hole at the first media timeout, one the Colonials were unable to climb out of for the rest of the second. Another Billikens run this time 9-0, combined with five minutes and 41 seconds of play without a GW basket, cemented the loss. The Colonials left the court in the second shooting just 8-for-20 from the field, struggling to find looks in Saint Louis’ heavily pressed defense.

It was yet another match where the Colonials’ shooting struggles extended to the free throw line and beyond the arc. GW shot just 66.7 percent from the charity stripe and 33.3 percent from the perimeter, attempting just one three-point shot in the second half

“I think they picked up the pressure. And besides Tony, we don’t handle pressure well. We’re not a good screen team, we’re not a physically tough team,” Lonergan said. “You’ve got to use screens for each other, you’ve got to set screens.”

The Colonials couldn’t limit the Billikens’ offensive presence the same way GW was staunched. Saint Louis was only slightly more successful from three and at the free throw line than GW, but made up for it with 50.0 shooting from the floor. The Colonials switched from man to a 1-3-1 zone defense, hoping to contain the Billikens’ hot-handed offense, especially sophomore forward Dwayne Evans, who added 19 points and grabbed 11 boards.

But the Colonials couldn’t maintain a solid defensive presence, and it was their struggles with ball control that further weakened the team’s attack. GW turned the ball over nine times in the second half, and the Billikens quickly converted those turnovers into 13 points. Perhaps the most glaring statistic of the night was the discrepancy in rebounding between the two teams, Saint Louis besting GW 38-24 on the boards, including a 21-10 second-half margin they used to hold the Colonials to zero points in the paint that half.

“I think a lot of it is that, and truthfully, our big guys don’t do a good job of posting up. We don’t really have a back to the basket player. We tried to establish a post game with [graduate student forward] Jabari [Edwards], [freshman forward] John [Kopriva] and Dave [Pellom] and none of them are really consistent with their back to the basket scoring,” Lonergan said. “We’ve got to establish the inside game. We don’t have that right now and it’s hurt us. And our big guys don’t rebound, so that’s hurt us.

Pellom, who entered the night shooting 66.7 percent to sit atop the A-10 field goal percentage standings, paced GW offensively, adding 15 points and grabbing four boards. Taylor followed, scoring 13 with three rebounds and two assists. Smith remained at eight, and Kromah added seven points, while senior forward Aaron Ware was one of the Colonials’ more visible presences at the glass, recording a team-high five rebounds.

After a two-game road stand to open league play, the Colonials return home to host Rhode Island Jan 11. Lonergan wants his team to bring the positives from their road trip back to the Smith Center, looking to strengthen GW’s conference play at home. In order to do that, he said, the spotlight will be on the members of the Colonials not producing to shake off the slump. And, Lonergan added, he’ll be looking for the team’s seniors to return to the presence they had during GW’s 4-1 opening start of the season.

“We’ve got to build on the positives. I think [sophomore forward] Nemanja’s [Mikic] become a better defender, and the effort’s there, we’ve been practicing well, but it’s just not there on the court,” Lonergan said. “We’ve got to start improving, or we’re going to have a very disappointing season.”

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