By: Abe Rothstein
“We were just outplayed,” perfectly encapsulates a 75-64 GW loss to La Salle, a team that entered Wednesday’s game at a lowly 2-6 in conference play. Following a tough loss on the road in the Bronx against Fordham, the Buff and Blue looked to recover at the vintage Tom Gola Arena in Philadelphia.
After a game in which James Bishop was held to 15 points and GW to their lowest scoring total since a January 3rd loss against Richmond (70), the Buff and Blue wanted to come out strong and flip the script. Unlike their norm, in which they have found themselves leading at halftime in all eight previous conference tilts, they immediately dug a hole that became extremely difficult to climb out of.
Hunter Dean won the tip for GW, and the scoring output was slow for both teams as the game was 7-6 going into the U16 media timeout. The scoring would soon start to pour in, but not from the Buff and Blue. La Salle, led by veteran coach Fran Dunphy, stormed out of the media timeout with a 7-0 run, led by John Nickleberry, who had 10 early points off of the bench. That run shortly expanded to a 13-0 run and a GW scoring drought by over five minutes, the third such drought in A-10 play.
Both Brendan Adams and James Bishop have been the catalysts for GW basketball and have cemented themselves as one of the best backcourts in the A-10, but teams have been looking to hamper their offensive output.
“I think teams are keying in on JB and Brendan early in games which makes it very difficult for them to get easy looks, we’re working very hard to help them,” Coach Caputo said postgame, “but ultimately too we got to have some balance in the offense and we are looking to find it in different ways.”
Much like Fordham, La Salle looked to trap James Bishop after a high ball screen, and full-court pressure flustered both Adams and Bishop. 6 of the team’s 16 total turnovers came from Adams (2) or Bishop (4). It was not until the 5-minute mark in the first half that James Bishop, who came into the game averaging 21.6 PPG, made his mark. As the 13-0 run concluded after a Ricky Lindo Jr. slam, Bishop started to ignite a previously stagnant offense with a contested three. He followed up by cutting the La Salle lead to 11 points with a three that cut the Explorer lead to eight. GW woke up to cut the halftime deficit to only seven points going into the locker room at halftime.
With Adams and Bishop struggling, the team has to look for other players to step up. Freshman Max Edwards was able to make his mark in the first half, stuffing the stat sheet in scoring, passing, rebounds, and steals. The improvement from the neophyte has been apparent.
“[Max] is learning a lot which is great, you know what they say, ‘in February when they play a lot, that you’re a sophomore when you get to February, you’re not a freshman anymore,” said Caputo.
For the first time all season, GW did not lead at halftime of an A-10 game. Instead of playing from the lead, the team would have to scratch and claw their way out of the deficit. The start of the second half looked like a completely different team came out of the tunnel, ready to play. The defense quickly picked up, forcing several turnovers, and the team started to run in transition, something that has made them successful throughout the year. GW found themselves on a 21-6 run that gave them the lead following a transition three from Adams.
“I was pleased with our response to cut the lead and take the lead,” Caputo explained postgame. “We started to trap pick and rolls which led to some down court opportunities. I wish we came out like that.”
The lead would shortly be relinquished as GW and La Salle exchanged leads more than 13 times in the second half. The Buff and Blue found themselves up six points after an Edwards three, and the two conference foes would trade the lead several times. The Explorers responded with a 10-0 run to lead 69-61, and that was the last gasp for the Buff and Blue in more ways than one. Both Adams and Bishop logged over 37 minutes, and fatigue has become apparent.
“Yeah, I would say it’s something to look at. When you get two second half, late 8 minute stretches or whatever,” Caputo said in reference to the poor stretches against Fordham and La Salle. “We are giving a lot of time off, you know, it’s examining how much rest is necessary and how much preparation is mentally, physically, spiritually.”
Following the run, the game was out of the hands of GW, as they fell in their second straight conference game, only this time against a lowly foe. Games such as this one only prove the need for more help for Adams and Bishop, something that won’t likely be seen for the rest of this season.
“We don’t have a lot of experience with guys being real threats offensively,” Caputo said regarding the depth of the team.
With only eight available scholarship players, GW relies on their starters immensely, and when their two stars cannot reach the heights of their best games, it makes the ability to win a lot more difficult. GW is 10-1 when they score at least 75 points, and being held to 70 or below is not a recipe for success.
GW will be celebrating their homecoming weekend headlined, with GW looking to find their winning ways once again at home. They will play Duquesne in a conference showdown on Saturday, February 4th, at 2 pm. The game will be broadcast live on WRGW and ESPN +.
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