No one expected when Mike Lonergan took over as George Washington’s coach this season that the Colonials would struggle as much as they have lately. After a 4-1 start, GW has dropped six in a row following its 62-57 home loss to James Madison on Thursday night — the longest losing streak of Lonergan’s 19-year coaching career.
The Colonials, who trailed by 22 points in the second half, mounted a furious comeback only to fall short in the final minutes. David Pellom, who had been suspended from the team’s previous game, returned and scored 22 points on 9-of-9 shooting to lead GW (4-7).
“I let my team down last game and I felt that I needed to come out tonight and play hard for them,” he said.
Many of the 2,265 fans at Smith Center were wearing purple — some even sitting courtside — making the gym feel more like a home game for James Madison (6-3). Encouraged by their enthusiastic fans, the Dukes raced to a big lead early.
A.J. Davis sank a three-point shot to put JMU ahead, 30-16, part of a 17-4 run by the Dukes. GW’s lackluster defense did little to hamper James Madison’s shooting. The Dukes made 65 percent of their field goal attempts (17 of 26) in the first half, including 6 of 9 from three-point range.
“I thought that game was lost in the first half,” Lonergan said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play with energy again. We didn’t execute the game plan. . . . We worked on it for three days. We’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff implementing the game plan and getting guys to understand.”
Lonergan went with his third starting lineup in the past three games, hoping to put a more defensive-oriented unit on the court. Aaron Ware made his first start of the season in place of Nemanja Mikic, who has been mired in a shooting slump and is limited defensively.
“We started what we thought was our best defensive lineup and we had no energy,” Lonergan said.
As poor as GW was playing defensively, its offense wasn’t faring much better. Too often, it degenerated into players trying to break down the defense one-on-one rather than relying on their teammates to help them create open shots.
Tony Taylor, GW’s leading scorer, seemed to be forcing his offense rather than generating it within the flow of the game. Taylor, who earlier this week was named to the Cousy Award watch list, missed 6 of 7 shots in the first half and finished with 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
By the 10-minute mark of the first half, every healthy scholarship player had been on the court. Yet no combination Lonergan tried seemed to work.
Twice, Lonergan tried calling timeout to stem JMU’s momentum only to have GW come out of the timeout to commit a turnover that the Dukes turned into points. With 3 minutes 8 seconds left before halftime, JMU had doubled up GW, leading 40-20.
A little more than six minutes into the second half, the Dukes took their largest lead, 55-33. That’s when Pellom started asserting himself. He had 13 points during GW’s 21-3 surge that cut the Colonials’ deficit to four with 2:59 to play.
But even though James Madison made only one field goal the final 13:46, the Dukes had built a big enough lead to withstand GW’s rally.
“It’s mainly the defensive end,” Pellom said. “It’s not the offense that we have to adjust to. I think everybody is kind of on board. We have to have five people on the court knowing what we’re doing, running the same play.”
Part of GW’s troubles could be that Lonergan has had to spend more time being a disciplinarian than a coach recently. Three players have been punished in the previous two games – Taylor and Ware for the Syracuse game and Pellom for the Bradley game. Now on top of those off-court issues, reserve guard Bryan Bynes is out with a shoulder injury.
“You’ve got to focus all your energy on things you can control,” Lonergan said. “I’m not going to give up on this team. . . . The things that we’re trying to establish in our program, everything is going well except these games.
“I’m going to keep working hard. I’ve never lost six games in a row in my life, Ping-Pong, anything. I’m a bad loser.”