George Washington trailed Virginia Commonwealth in several categories, but the first leg of Sunday's BB&T Classic at Verizon Center ultimately came down to one factor: One team had Bradford Burgess, and the other did not.
Burgess rained jumpers all afternoon to spearhead a VCU shooting clinic that featured a 12-for-24 clip from beyond the arc. Burgess finished 4-for-8 from 3-point land to go along with a game-high 24 points, marking his seventh double-digit performance of the first eight games this season.
Burgess' proficiency from the outside was a discouraging sign for George Washington, which continually suffered defensive breakdowns that left Burgess and other shooters wide open on the wing. Even when they knew a 3-point shot was going up, the Colonials were often unable to rotate properly off ball screens and close out shooters.
"I'll give them credit: They got open," George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said. "We let Burgess get off to a great start, and then we changed some things. Three or four guys are on the same page, but one or two guys have a breakdown almost every play."
The Colonials stayed ahead for the game's first five minutes, but a six-minute 13-2 VCU run broke the game open for the hot-shooting Rams. Junior guard Troy Daniels was instrumental in that span, knocking down three long balls that marked his only points of the contest.
It was the second straight contest in which George Washington suffered a back-breaking midgame lapse. In their 69-56 loss against Kansas State on Thursday, the Colonials surrendered a 15-1 run after trailing by just three at halftime. Sunday's dry spell made the halftime score against VCU considerably more lopsided, as the shell-shocked Colonials headed to the locker room down 43-26.
"Part of those runs are not just our lack of defense, it's also our scoring problems and our turnovers," Lonergan said. "And truthfully, I actually think one of the problems with our team is that we have some guys that are too confident in their offensive abilities. When we try to take things into our own hands and dribble and go one-on-one, that's when we get in trouble."
George Washington looked scattered and confused against VCU coach Shaka Smart's patented "Havoc" defense, which reaped 10 first-half turnovers out of its intense full-court press. While the Colonials were unable to generate a single point off a VCU turnover, the Rams came away with 16 points in the first half off takeaways.
"VCU has a real good pressure defense, and that's what they base their whole offense off," said senior guard Tony Taylor, who finished with 14 points for the Colonials. "They did a really good job of getting the ball out of my hands and just trying to make everyone else play and break the press. We didn't do a good job of breaking their press in the first half."
While VCU finished with four players in double figures, only two George Washington players eclipsed eight points. Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic came away with a team-high 15 points, although he only put up four shots in the second half.
The Colonials will end their six-game road stretch Wednesday night when they meet Loyola at the Charles E. Smith Center, where they haven't defended home court since their season-opening win against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 11.
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