Image credit: @GW_MBB
By: Abe Rothstein
Following a heartbreaking 66-64 loss to Washington State to open their Hawaii trip, any GW fan would hope that the team would come out with a fire lit under them. But instead they largely saw the opposite today. GW, now in the consolation ladder of the bracket in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, took on 7-6 Pepperdine.
Coming into the game, Pepperdine was 15th in the NCAA in threes per game and led by Maxwell Lewis, who was averaging 18.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Lewis is considered to be a prospect for the NBA draft this spring and GW was quick to learn this as the sophomore forward would score 10 of the first 14 points for Pepperdine. At one point at the under 12 media timeout, Lewis had the same amount of points as the GW team.
The Buff & Blue were once again stymied on the offensive end as they started the game shooting 1-for-7 from the field. Problems for GW would only get worse as graduate transfer guard and newly minted starter EJ Clark injured his foot going up for a layup with 10:08 left in the first half. Clark would leave the game and did not return. During halftime, he was spotted using crutches but there was no update on his status postgame.
With the injury of Clark, graduate student guard Amir Harris stepped in for GW and provided some very important minutes in the first half. His play was highlighted by a beautiful save of the ball going out of bounds to senior guard James Bishop on the perimeter, who fired it back into Harris, and Amir dished it to senior forward Hunter Dean for the dunk down low. The potential emergence of Harris could be key for GW, as he provides a defensive spark, but is often reluctant to shoot. Head coach Chris Caputo hinted that he will likely be seeing a lot more time if Clark were to miss time.
“He’s gonna be the guy,” Caputo said. “It’s no secret… he’s getting more comfortable.”
Senior forward Ricky Lindo was once again a non-factor in the first half against the Waves as he found himself on the bench with foul trouble. This is starting to become a trend that hurts the team, especially with the lack of depth. Caputo was clearly upset about the consistent foul trouble.
“I am trying, taking him out with 1 foul, trying a number of different things, ultimately you’re gonna have to not foul…” Caputo said. “Sometimes there are aggressive fouls and sometimes there are not.”
Lindo is an extremely major part of this team, and if the fouling continues, it could potentially harm his role, “He has to learn as a player to stay out of foul trouble and I’m trying to help him with it, but he has to help himself some.” Caputo said.
GW went on a 10-0 run in the first half, but Pepperdine would respond by making eight of their last nine shots in the half to take a 34-31 lead. To start the second half, GW would start hot, going on a 9-0 run, and Pepperdine took a quick timeout. That timeout shifted the momentum, not only directly after the timeout but for the rest of the game. Pepperdine would respond with a 14-1 run and would not look back the rest of the game.
Alongside Lewis, who left the game due to foul trouble, freshman forward Jevon Porter, brother of NBA star Michael Porter Jr, was very impressive. He finished the game with 18 points and a dominant 14 rebounds. Once again, GW lacks a major rebounder as they were -14 on the glass. Pepperdine would answer every attempt the Buff and Blue had at a comeback and were able to coast to a victory.
The GW offense struggled and went 2-for-10 from three. Coach Caputo cited the gameflow for the low shot total from the perimeter, “We got the ball about two feet from the basket and we didn’t score… I felt as if it was the theme of the day, we had some shots at the rim and we didn’t convert.”
71% of the GWs points came from inside the arc, and Bishop led the team in scoring with 22, above his season average of 21.1. Redshirt freshman guard Max Edwards also contributed offensively, finishing with 15 points on the night.
Offensively, Caputo made it apparent that they will try many combinations to see what works best, including playing Dean and junior forward Keegan Harvey together, saying they’ll be “Trying some things… we don’t have tremendous depth or options so we look at some different options and lineups and see what works… we don’t have many options, especially in the backcourt.”
Options in the backcourt took a larger hit with the loss of Clark, especially defensively.
“We don’t have much of a margin of error, so to lose EJ Clark in the first half,” Caputo said. “It affects our team, he has been a catalyst for us defensively, so to lose that, it hurts.”
For GW, they currently stand at 6-6, and Caputo ended the postgame press call by speaking about what GW has the chance to do on Christmas Day when they play Seattle at 1:30 PM on ESPNU.
“Looking forward, we get to play on Christmas Day…” Caputo said. “It’s an opportunity to have a winning record in non-conference. That would be the first winning record in [OOC] since 2018.”
For GW, while there is a lot of work to be done, it is a step in the right direction, but this team does require patience.