Image credit: Greg Fiume
By: Abe Rothstein
After a brutal loss against crosstown rival American on Saturday, GW men’s basketball was looking to rebound in a major way (no pun intended). Tuesday’s game proved to be a perfect way to bring the team back together following a rough patch with an 83-71 victory over Coppin State.
The first half looked similar to the loss against American, as turnovers were rampant (10 in the first half), shots were not really falling and the Buff & Blue (6-4) played poorly on defense. Senior guard James Bishop and graduate student guard Brendan Adams, two veterans and catalysts for the team, were crucial factors in making sure the game did not go awry as it did on Saturday. Going into the under 12 media timeout, there were reasons to worry for GW as they trailed 21-14 against the Eagles (4-9), a team with a notoriously grueling schedule so far this season. GW responded with a quick 5-0 run themselves, which was made possible by some impressive rebounding, especially on the offensive boards by redshirt freshman guard Max Edwards. Following the game, Edwards spoke about his rebounding prowess and how head coach Chris Caputo urged him to be aggressive.
“Before the game, Coach [Caputo] told me to crash all of the offensive rebounds and to sprint back.” Edwards said.
He certainly took that to heart as he finished with a team high 12 rebounds including five on the offensive glass. The rebounding advantage was apparent the entire game as GW outrebounded Coppin State 42-22 and 14-2 on the offensive boards. While there was an obvious advantage in offensive rebounding, GW was reluctant to attack the paint on a regular basis, often playing a small lineup with senior forward Ricky Lindo at the 5. A perimeter based offense was needed without senior forward Hunter Dean, who sat out his second straight game with an injury. Coach Caputo says he “hopes to have” Dean available for the upcoming Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii from December 22-25.
The loss of Hunter Dean did expose some of the struggles and limitations of the GW offense. Even with a +20 rebounding margin, Coppin State had a 38-36 advantage in points in the paint. GW consistently stayed around the perimeter with their small lineup and shot 31 of their 61 shots from beyond the arc, which Coach Caputo was content with.
“I think 50% [of shots being three pointers] is okay for us,” Caputo said. “I thought today… we got some clean looking threes, there weren’t many forced ones.”
While GW had a bit of a scare in the first half, the second half was a completely different story. Coming into the game, GW looked to shut down the third leading scorer in the NCAA, redshirt senior guard Sam Sessoms, who needed eight points to eclipse 2,000 for his career coming into the game. NBA scouts from the Brooklyn Nets and the Dallas Mavericks were on hand to watch Sessoms, who was held to only six first half points but heated up in the second half, adding 17 points. While Sessoms heated up, Coppin State cooled down, as they were out scored in the second half 49-39. Bishop was asked about the matchup of scorers between him and Sessoms, but the Baltimore native was focused on the team effort.
“He is a great player so that was our main focus coming into tonight, trying to stop him.” Bishop said.
While GW held him near his scoring average of 23.9 points per game, Bishop once again put up 30 points on a night with NBA scouts in attendance. The Charles E. Smith Center might be the new place where draft hopes go to die.
While GW has a thin bench, they do have a scorer who is one of the best in the Atlantic 10 and the NCAA in Bishop, who in the eyes of Caputo has a bit of a leash with his shot selection. If the one guy who gets to take a wild shot is JB, it would be silly not to allow that. Defensively, Coach Caputo noted the lack of depth and inexperience of the team.
“We do have our limitations,” Caputo said. “We put in inexperienced guys who have never really been in the fire.”
While graduate student guard Amir Harris has emerged as a defensive stopper, Caputo is also looking for more ways to get the ball in the paint: “We don’t have drivers.”
This likely will keep GW as a perimeter team for the time being unless some young players step up. Edwards had by far his best game in the Buff and Blue, finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. His energy was infectious for the team, highlighted by several finishes at the hoop including a beautiful pass to Ricky Lindo with 8:54 to go in the second half.
Adams, who played a grueling 39 minutes, was efficient with 18 points (7-7 FT), seven rebounds, and four assists. Junior forward Keegan Harvey played a very limited role today as Caputo stated that Keegan “tweaked his ankle” in practice yesterday. The injury should not affect his long term outlook.
GW managed to close out the game without much of a sweat at the end, defeating Coppin State for the third time in three years and the fifth time in six all-time meetings.
GW travels to Hawaii, where they will take on Washington State to start the 2022 Diamond Head Classic. Their opponents following that will depend on if they are able to win but they will play either Hawaii or Pepperdine in their second game. Those games can be found on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
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