- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

No Pops, no problem.

George Washington proved it can win without its star big man last night as Pops Mensah-Bonsu missed the entire second half with a twisted knee. The sixth-ranked Colonials used their depth and explosiveness to come from behind for a 77-65 win over La Salle.

GW’s program-record 15th consecutive win extended the nation’s longest active winning streak. The Colonials (23-1, 13-0) clinched a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season title and can claim it outright with a win in any of their next three games or a loss by second-place Charlotte.

The Colonials trailed by seven early in the second half against the Explorers, who came in on a seven-game winning streak. That’s when GW’s defensive pressure, offensive rebounding and depth took over as the Colonials showed their impressive regular season could be a prelude to an NCAA tournament run.

“We are going to get you eventually,” said guard Danilo Pinnock, one of five Colonials in double figures with 10 points to go with six assists and five rebounds. “Whether we get you in the first 10 minutes or the next 10 minutes, we are going to get you eventually, and we are going to make you pay.”

This time a second-half flurry came with Mensah-Bonsu sitting on the bench with a towel wrapped around his head. The senior center got tangled with La Salle’s Mike St. John late in the first half, fell and grabbed his left knee before grimacing while heading to the sideline. Mensah-Bonsu’s immediate status was not known last night.

But against the Explorers (17-8, 9-5), the Colonials were fine without their dominant big man. Transfer Regis Koundjia scored 13 points, all in the second half, as GW recovered from the seven-point halftime deficit on the way to a late blowout. Maureece Rice hit the go-ahead 3-pointer as part of a 10-point run. The sophomore finished with 12 points.

Mensah-Bonsu finished with 10 points in 13 minutes before his early exit.

“The fact that Pops wasn’t out there was really our rallying point,” said Pinnock, whose squad shot 58.1 percent in the decisive second half and outrebounded the Explorers 16-9 in the period. GW had an 18-5 advantage on second-chance points and forced 19 turnovers while committing only nine (two in the second half).

The Colonials shut down A-10 player of the year front-runner Steve Smith, who finished with 12 points. Omar Williams (seven points, seven rebounds), Mike Hall (five points, six rebounds) and Koundjia took turns handling La Salle’s 6-foot-9 senior in front of 10 NBA scouts.

The decisive run came after Smith’s midrange jumper gave La Salle a 40-33 lead with 18:42 left. Williams, who filled in for Mensah-Bonsu in the post, hit a 15-footer to start the rally. After a turnover by the Explorers and two offensive rebounds, Koundjia hit a runner while slashing across the lane. Koundjia added a free throw before Rice sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give GW the lead at 41-40.

Another slashing move and layup by Koundjia wrapped up the run. Jermaine Thomas, who finished with 19 points, then tied the game on a 3-pointer. Later, La Salle went on a five-point run to take a 48-46 lead on St. John’s 3-pointer with 12:32 left.

The next possession demonstrated how GW sealed the win. Pinnock missed two 3-pointers, but Williams leaped high for a long rebound just inside the foul line and in one motion tipped the ball to Rice in front of the basket. The point guard easily converted the layup to tie the game.

Hall’s 3-pointer gave the Colonials the lead for good at 51-48 with 11:25 left.

“The guys had to respond in a tough situation to something they hadn’t been through before,” said GW coach Karl Hobbs, who added through a stone-face that he learned nothing new about his team last night. “We are finding ways to win. We have won a lot of different ways this year. And that’s a good thing heading into the tournament.”

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