George Washington began its season with little fanfare and with one of its best players serving an NCAA-related suspension.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu served the first of a three-game, school-imposed suspension for NCAA violations involving his entry in last spring’s NBA Draft as the No. 21 Colonials systematically dismantled undermanned Kennesaw State in a 87-42 victory in front of 2,217 fans at Smith Center.
Mike Hall led GW with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and the Colonials used a pressure defense to force 26 turnovers.
The lopsided outcome was hardly a surprise, but Colonials coach Karl Hobbs was happy with the effort from his team, which is expected to repeat as Atlantic 10 champions and return to the NCAA tournament.
“There isn’t a talent issue with this team. There isn’t a lack of depth with this team. It isn’t a lack of shooting with this team. It isn’t a lack of experience with this team. It is really about our mental approach,” Hobbs said. “Can we get to a point to where every time we step on the basketball floor we are going to play at a high level?”
The coach was unsatisfied with the Colonials in their 102-96 preseason win over Division II Augusta State and said he has focused almost exclusively on defense since that contest. For what it’s worth, GW held Kennesaw to 31.8 percent shooting.
The undersized Owls (1-3), who are in their first season playing Division I basketball, offered little resistance. It didn’t help that the visitors from outside Atlanta were leg- and travel-weary after playing three games in Alaska’s Top of the World Classic last weekend.
Hall had 16 points in the first half as the Colonials built a 39-19 lead at the break. The 6-foot-8 senior, who entered but withdrew from the NBA Draft, shot 7-for-7 in the first half, including several spectacular dunks after hovering in midair.
“We have no set game plan, and we just have an open offense with a lot of guys that are interchangeable,” said Hall, who had seven offensive rebounds. “The shots just presented themselves.”
J.R. Pinnock (10 points, nine rebounds and six steals) had three of GW’s seven steals in the first half. The Colonials shot 57.1 percent in the period while holding a 26-10 advantage in points in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Owls were constantly harassed and shot 32 percent — including missing seven 3-pointers — in the first half. Kennesaw State, a former Division II power, won that level’s national championship in 2004 but has no returning starters this season.
“For us, it is not really about the opponent,” said Hobbs, beginning his fifth season at GW. “It is about the process and how we handle the process.”
Notes — Six-foot-11 Alex Kireev, a senior from the Ukraine, started in Mensah-Bonsu’s spot. The senior had six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes. … The Owls have yet to return to Georgia after playing in the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks last weekend. They lost to Division II Alaska-Fairbanks 78-75 to finish sixth in the tournament and then traveled to the District.