With less than 10 minutes left yesterday, George Washington was down two points in a showdown for first place in the Atlantic 10. But by the end of the game, coach Karl Hobbs cleared his bench in a comfortable victory.
GW showed just how explosive it can be, pulling away in a 81-62 win against Rhode Island before 5,000 at a sold-out Smith Center. The win sets up the first nationally televised game of the season for the 14th-ranked Colonials (16-1, 6-0 A-10), who play at Xavier (13-4, 4-2) on Thursday on ESPN2.
GW has won all 10 home games this season and has a two-game lead in the loss column in the conference race over Xavier and Rhode Island (11-7, 5-2), which was outscored 29-8 down the stretch yesterday.
“On any given night, I think [the Colonials] are as good as anybody just because of their athletic ability. They can score, they can rebound, they can defend and they play a very different style,” Rams coach Jim Baron said. “You’ve got to be ready to play that style for 40 minutes. They force you to turn the ball over and get you out of your game.”
Baron’s overachieving bunch could only play GW’s frenetic, up-tempo style for so long. Rhode Island led by nine points early in the second half before the Colonials’ running and trapping game became too daunting.
GW junior forward Danilo Pinnock converted a driving layup that tied the game at 54-54 with 9:39 left and started the game-ending surge. In the final 7:15, Rhode Island committed five turnovers and made just two field goals.
“There was a timeout and I saw that the score was tied and a couple of the starters got together and said we have to go on a run in these next few minutes and put the game away,” GW senior center Pops Mensah-Bonsu said. “That showed our experience. We had some seniors and some juniors in the game and it showed that we knew what we had to do to put the game away.”
Mensah-Bonsu had his third double-double of the season with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. He was coming off a career-high 29-point outing with 12 rebounds Wednesday at Duquesne.
“Pops is playing like the monster he is,” said Pinnock, who scored a team-high 18 points. “Nothing he’s doing out there is surprising us because we see it every day.”
The Colonials committed 11 turnovers in the first half but just two in the second half. Rhode Island, which led 45-39 at halftime behind 15 points off turnovers, shot just 18.5 percent (5-for-27) in the second half when it was forced to work for shots. Dawan Robinson led the Rams with 19 points but was just 5-for-14 from the field.
Reserve forward Regis Koundjia, a transfer from LSU, totaled eight points, eight rebounds and two steals in just 23 minutes for his best game of the season. Point guard Carl Elliott finished with 13 points and four assists, and senior forward Omar Williams had 10 points as GW won its eighth consecutive game.
“I’m not sure where we belong [in the national rankings] and I honestly mean that, but I want to make sure that when we go [to Xavier] that we play great defense, we take good shots, and we play the way we’re capable of playing,” Hobbs said. “The worst thing that can happen to us Thursday … we can lose a basketball game.”