By: Abe Rothstein
GW cemented themselves as a true team of streaks as they knocked off conference foe La Salle in a 92-85 victory. With the win against La Salle, who has been vastly improved this year with Philadelphia coaching legend Fran Dunphy at the helm, GW moves up to the seventh seed in the A-10 tournament, escaping the “pillow fight” round.
With the likelihood of a bye for the first round, GW finds themselves with the ability to have some extra rest prior to the grueling tournament in Brooklyn.
From the opening tip, the GW offense was ready for revenge against a La Salle team to which they lost their previous tilt in Philadelphia. The first play of the game for GW featured a designed play to set up a soaring Hunter Dean for the slam to open the scoring. Today, the offense would be the story for both halves of play.
While the GW offense excelled for the entire game, La Salle was able to stay in the game in the first half due to their offensive rebounding, which saw them lead GW in the category 15-4. Second-chance points for the Explorers were key, as their rebounding prowess gave them 21 of those second-chance points.
“I thought we were going to give up the record for most offensive rebounds in the history of college basketball,” said Coach Caputo postgame.
Offensive rebounding was surely costly for GW going into halftime, and the game plan did not change very much.
“Basically all we talked about at half is boxing out and grabbing the ball with two hands and get running,” said James Bishop, who added 15 of his 29 points in the first half.
It’s rare to see a team shoot 61% in the first half to find themselves down 42-40 at the half. While the main adjustment for the team was to grab rebounds, the team wanted to be able to get out in transition, an area in which the team excels.
“We feel like we’re such a good team in transition, so that’s why the game looks so different. When we get rebounds we are able to run and sprint.” Bishop continued, “Ricky [Lindo] and Hunter [Dean] did a great job at the rim.”
Both Lindo and Dean excelled, Dean especially. Coming off of a career-high scoring performance against Rhode Island, where he put up 17 points, Dean once again became a focal point for Caputo and the GW offense. The senior put up 21 points to go along with eight rebounds in his second straight excellent performance. The emergence of Dean on the offensive end works wonders for the GW offense, as Bishop and Brendan Adams have less of a load to deal with.
“He’s been really steady for us all year, I think he knows what’s at stake at the end of the year so he’s taking his game to the next level… I’m really happy he’s on our side,” Bishop concluded.
The second half was a completely different story than the rough first half. GW moved away from the 3-2 zone in which they had deployed over the previous games against Rhode Island and Saint Bonaventure. Caputo noted that the zone may have been the factor in the offensive rebounding, or lack thereof because players do not have specific box-out assignments.
The adjustment from Caputo paid dividends, and GW kept up their hot offense as La Salle became stagnant. Bishop once again was the high scorer with 29 points to go along with nine assists. As Bishop has been red hot shooting the ball, passing is another factor in his game in which he has started to excel.
“You talk about a guy who has a skill set… throw him in the all star skills competition.” Caputo continued, “He’s a very very very good pass, dribble, and shoot. He’s just very good. As anyone as I’ve coached.”
The praise from Caputo is surely impressive as he has worked with NBA talents such as former NBA first-round pick Shane Larkin and Lonnie Walker. The compliment surely should not be taken lightly.
The Buff and Blue would pull away thanks to a 15-3 run, and they would never look back. The lead was extended up to 20 points, but La Salle would not go away in garbage time, much to the chagrin of GW as they searched for their first non-overtime win since the victory against Dayton on January 21.
“I was totally prepared to go into OT. Certainly when I tried to sub, I was trying to get into overtime,” said Caputo jokingly after emptying the bench with about a minute left in the game. Both walk-ons Laziz Talipov and Theofanis Stamoulis were on the court very briefly prior to being pulled for Bishop at the end.
With the victory against La Salle, GW will clinch an above .500 record in the first season for Caputo and company, an impressive feat. While the record is great for the fans, the players certainly are impacted.
“I think this group deserves that… they deserve to have some type of benchmark.” Caputo went on to talk about Brendan Adams, “Guys like Brendan who’s career is going to come to an end… he feels like there is some sort of achievement.”
There certainly is an achievement with this GW team as it is looking increasingly likely to receive a first-round bye and escape the dreaded “pillow fight” in the A-10 tournament.
To prepare for the tournament in Brooklyn, the rotations are being tightened, as it looked as if Caputo wanted to make this a move going forward.
“This time of year, everybody is really trying to win. You’re not thinking about depth, you’re thinking about what do I need to do to win today. I made a decision at halftime that I was going to ride those guys. Their energy level was great,” Caputo concluded.
The Buff and Blue will look to continue their winning ways as they will travel to North Carolina to take on Davidson in their final away game of this season. They will be playing on Wednesday, March 1, and the game will be live on ESPN +.
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