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Defensive woes return for men’s basketball in loss to Saint Joseph’s

Senior guard Joe McDonald battles a Saint Joseph's defender during Wednesday night's 84–66 loss to the Hawks. Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
Senior guard Joe McDonald battles a Saint Joseph’s defender during Wednesday night’s 84–66 loss to the Hawks. Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Entering Wednesday night’s pivotal Atlantic 10 clash, Saint Joseph’s (20-4, 9-2 A-10) didn’t have a single top-50 RPI win but nevertheless owned the 30th best RPI in the country thanks to a perfect 8-0 road record.

Behind nine three-pointers and a devastating 64.3 percent second-half clip from the field, that all changed with a commanding 84–66 victory over GW (RPI: 34) at the Smith Center. The contest was one both teams needed to win in order to assert themselves as one of the best programs in the league.

Back-to-back corner threes by senior forward Isaiah Miles, who had a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds, late in the final frame were the dagger that put the visitors up 17, a sequence representative of the defensive struggles the Colonials (18-6, 7-4 A-10) wrangled with all night.

“[Saint Joseph’s] dominated us tonight and just, to let a team shoot that percentage, you’re not really playing defense. It’s not just them making shots. It’s just a lack of team defense,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We did [play good defense] for a couple games but that’s been our Achilles heel all year and it’s contagious.”

While all five GW starters finished the game scoring in double figures, led by redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh’s 17 points, the team’s inefficiencies on the other end proved more decisive.

The dynamic pair of Saint Joseph’s forwards in Miles and junior DeAndre Bembry combined for critical 35 points and 14 boards, while the Hawks’ bench outscored GW’s a whopping 25–7 to help snap a three-game Colonials’ win streak.

“We didn’t follow the scouting report, we didn’t have good ball pressure, we let guys go backdoor, the list can go on,” senior guard Joe McDonald, who finished with 10 points and a game-high seven assists, said. “We didn’t play well at all defensively, and that’s what got us our wins earlier and got us on a streak.”

Midway through the first half, Miles and Bembry had combined for just two points and one rebound. But the Hawks, perhaps to GW’s surprise, found other ways to jump to a 21–12 lead and silence a rocking Smith Center crowd cheering on its team for the first time since a crucial win at VCU.

Five different Saint Joseph’s players hit three-pointers in the frame, including two straight from freshman forward Perfrancesco Oliva in the opening minutes. The Hawks went an impressive 6-of-14 from beyond the arc in the half, while GW went a stagnant 2-for-10 from the area.

“Early in the game I thought we missed some easy shots, had some bad turnovers, but give them credit. They did a great job scouting and they exposed us,” Lonergan said. “They went at us and took us to the rim, got wide open shots.”

Senior forward Kevin Larsen kept the Colonials in it early, racking up a quick eight points with hard work down low. He left the game for a few minutes with a minor injury, Lonergan said, but Watanabe and Cavanaugh picked up the slack, combining for 18 points and GW’s only two deep balls.

The Colonials minimized their first half deficit to four on multiple occasions in a game in which they led for only 24 seconds, but the Hawks kept hammering away. The visitors finished the half shooting 50 percent from the field to GW’s 38.9, and took a sturdy 39–32 lead into halftime.

Bembry opened scoring in the second half with a fast-break dunk to set the tone for the rest of the night. The Hawks quickly jumped to a 45–32 lead behind versatile offensive play, as they would go onto hit three more from deep in the half and outscore the Colonials 38–36 in the paint on the night.

The last glimmer of hope for the home team came shortly thereafter when the Colonials embarked on an inspired 11-1 run to cut Saint Joseph’s lead to 46–43.

“We were feeling the energy a little bit higher, I think the focus was better, defensively too–we had a couple stops in a row,” senior swingman Patricio Garino, who added 12 points and three rebounds, said.

But after Garino missed one of two at the free throw line, where GW went an uncharacteristic 4-for-7 on the night, Saint Joseph’s went a 7-0 run of its own, led once again by its skilled frontcourt, and never looked back.

The Hawks swiftly regained a double-digit lead that they would only continue to widen. Not even four GW second-half threes or a 36-29 overall rebounding margin in their favor could help the Colonials.

Cavanaugh embodied the team’s frustration when he took a late-game technical foul after contesting an official’s call, but all in all Lonergan thought passion and effort, especially on defense, was lacking.

“It’s just effort,” Lonergan said. “It’s effort and this team, I shouldn’t be coaching effort. We’re experienced enough to know, we say all the right things but you’ve got to do it. You can’t just walk over and put a hand up on a guy who’s going to make a shot, you got to really hustle. We just didn’t have energy.

GW returns to action Saturday at 4 p.m. when it visits Olean, N.Y. to take on Saint Bonaventure.

“Hopefully we can bounce back,” Lonergan said. “One game is not going to make or break our season, we’ve got another opportunity against a good team on Saturday but we’ve got to take advantage of it. We were starting to get better but tonight was a big setback for us.”

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