By: Cameron Mays
A gritty senior night performance by GW was stifled as VCU took advantage of foul trouble and timely shooting to snatch a 74-68 victory in the last regular season game.
Going into the game against the number one team in the conference, GW was in position to secure the fifth seed with a victory after Fordham beat Duquesne. Adding this to the environment of a packed crowd on senior day, there was certainly something for GW to fight for. With a defensive-oriented team like VCU and an offensive-minded team like GW, the question was what would budge first.
The first half of the game was somewhat of an anomaly for GW. While neither Brendan Adams or James Bishop were playing well offensively, GW held their own due to a mix of production from Hunter Dean, Ricky Lindo, and Max Edwards. Still hot off several high-scoring games, Dean was finding easy baskets in the post and off put-backs, while Lindo was also getting locks inside.
VCU’s defense, especially among their guards, was hampering Adams and Bishop in the first half. Full-court pressure off of VCU-made baskets forced Adams and Bishop to have to take extra care of the ball, something that neither does extremely well. The passing and driving lanes were clogged up, and with solid perimeter defense, every point was harder to come by.
“We know that’s what they do, they pressure teams, that’s what they’ve done for a long time. So it was just about being prepared for it the last two or three days,” Adams said of the VCU press.
While foul trouble has been a frequent topic for GW this season, it was elevated to another level in the first half. Noel Brown went into halftime with four fouls, while Dean and Lindo had two each. With VCU’s strong interior play and a lack of three-point shooting, they relentlessly attacked the rim, drawing fouls under the basket. On top of that, several questionable offensive foul calls went against GW, contributing to the high foul totals. Regardless, Coach Caputo’s rotations were severely limited, and several players had to sit back on defense, leading to easier buckets for VCU.
“Our front court gets fouls a lot, I think we foul a lot in the front court. I will also say where I come from, and what I know of professional basketball, they don’t let you hold people on the perimeter, they hold that very tight,” Caupto said of the frequent GW fouls, “It seems to me we call things tighter near the basket here, like in the post.”
VCU went into the half up 35-32, an overall good result from GW considering the fouling and scoring circumstances.
The second half started terribly for GW. A five-point VCU run out of the half put the Rams up eight within 30 seconds after a three from VCU’s center Brandon Johns Jr. and a GW turnover on the ensuing inbounds leading to a layup. The defense locked in for the next few minutes, and it seemed like Bishop would get his offense working after hitting a three, but he continued to miss layups and jumpers that fans have seen him hit all year.
Foul concerns continued when both Lindo and Dean quickly picked up their third and fourth fouls with over 12 minutes to play. During this time, the GW defense stalled, and VCU slowly started to expand their lead off of solid play from Nick Kern, Jayden Nunn, and Jalen DeLoach.
The big VCU run came around the ten-minute mark by the hands of sharpshooter David Shriver. While he could not get anything going offensively in the first half, and his defensive liabilities forced him to sit out, he came alive in the second and hit four threes and pushed the VCU lead to 17 with 7:21 remaining.
GW clawed back with an even attack from the five starters over the next five minutes, cutting the lead to five. Solid defense and a well-placed pass to a Lindo dunk, then pushed GW within three with 50 seconds left, but a costly turnover with 15 seconds left and VCU back up five put the game away for good.
After the game, Adams praised the team for fighting back after being down late but wished the team could have competed better against the tough VCU defense earlier in the game.
“I think we’ve done a good job just weathering the storms of the season, we’ve obviously had some adversary, some losing streaks,” Adams said, “I think we’ve always fought back, we’ve always stayed together as a team, and that’s the biggest thing going into tournament play.”
Coach Caputo applauded his counterpart’s game plan but said the focus is now on the A10 Tournament in Brooklyn.
“I think you just have to play every game and not worry about the next one. We have to work on us a little bit, and then prepare for whoever we are going to play,” Caputo said.
GW earned a first-round bye in the tournament and will either play the winner of St. Joe’s vs. Loyola Chicago. The game will be at 5:00 pm on March 8th and can be listened to on WRGW or watched on USA Network.
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