George Washington suspended a player expected to start Thursday.
It missed two fast-break layups in the final two minutes.
It missed more than half of its free throws.
And it had a chance to upend Bradley until the final horn.
When a team’s dropped four, make it five, in a row, remarkably sticking around despite several self-inflicted issues tends to get forgotten.
Such was the case at the Smith Center after the Colonials dropped a 67-66 decision and remained 0-for-December. Guard Tony Taylor’s shot was blocked in the final seconds, and Lasan Kromah couldn’t get off a decent shot as time expired.
“We did not execute the play correctly,” coach Mike Lonergan said. “We did not screen for Tony, and he was forced to take a tough shot.”
It’s hardly a new development for GW (4-6), which hoped a four-game homestand leading into league play would provide a boost to a road-weary team already with visits (and losses) to California, Kansas State and Syracuse.
Of course, some details were different as Lonergan attempts to coax what he can out of the Colonials in his first season. Junior forward David Pellom was suspended for violating athletic department policy. Pellom, who Lonergan said would have started Thursday, is expected to be back for GW’s Dec. 22 date with James Madison.
“There’s too many distractions around this program,” Lonergan said. “We have to get these guys focused on academics and basketball and trying to win games.”
The Colonials also frittered away their chances to fully put away the Braves (5-4). After building a 56-48 lead, GW’s edge gradually eroded. It nonetheless was tied entering the last two minutes, though a pair of missed layups cost the Colonials a chance to seize the lead.
They would be costly miscues. Bradley’s Walt Lemons Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to give the Braves a 67-64 edge. Taylor made two foul shots with 23.9 seconds to play, and Bryan Bynes forced a Bradley turnover on the ensuing inbound play.
Yet the Colonials sputtered out of the timeout, with Taylor driving when the screen Lonergan drew up failed to materialize.
“I just made a bad decision,” Taylor said. “I probably should have shot over him. I tried to create and go to the basket.”
What was familiar for Lonergan was a continuing struggle to make his two best guards – Taylor and Kromah – the centerpieces of the offense. They each took 10 shots, only the third time in 10 games both guys reached that plateau.
Aaron Ware had a team-high 13 points for the Colonials, while freshman John Kopriva (12 points) reached double figures for the first time. Taylor (11 points) and Kromah (10 points) also reached double figures.
“I can honestly say that if I’m leading the team in scoring, we’re probably not going to win the game.” Ware said. “We just have to get Lasan more shots and get Tony more shots. I think that’s going to be some carry-over to the next three games we play.”
It is an important time in GW’s development. The Colonials’ issues go beyond the obvious need to fully adjust to the structure of Lonergan’s offense. A 6-for-13 night at the foul line reflects a lingering problem. The 2-for-10 performance from beyond the 3-point line was GW’s worst of the season.
A shot here or there, and the Colonials would have put an end to a losing streak and evened their record. Instead, there’s a greater impetus for improvement as Atlantic 10 play fast approaches.
“One [play] doesn’t make the difference in a ballgame, “ Ware said. “I think free throws have been an Achilles’ heel for us in the season, but I think it’s something we can improve on. It’s not too late. Unfortunately, it’s a five-game losing streak, but we have more time to get it right.”