When 19th-ranked George Washington lost starting forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu to a three-game suspension, the Colonials' brief November schedule became a test of their much-touted depth. Coach Karl Hobbs's fast-breaking, high-flying offense regularly features nine or 10 players, and Mensah-Bonsu's absence would merely take one well-known name out of that rotation.
After an extended struggle last night, that depth finally won out for the frenetic Colonials in an 85-68 win over St. Francis (Pa.). The game was tied at halftime, but two St. Francis starters fouled out midway through the second half and the deeper Colonials (3-0) gradually pulled away.
"Like coach always tells us, we want to wear the other team down," said guard Danilo Pinnock, who led George Washington with 20 points. "We might get you early, we might get you late, but eventually we're going to get you. That's just the way we play."
George Washington's offense again showed that it can score plenty of points without Mensah-Bonsu. The Colonials reached 80 points for the third straight game, and elicited their usual fast-break oohs and ahhs from an announced crowd of 2,416 at Smith Center.
The defense, though, was more problematic. Mensah-Bonsu, one of the nation's premier shot blockers, again watched from the bench because of a suspension stemming from NCAA violations during his flirtation with the NBA last spring; he will return tomorrow against winless Boston University. And with the Colonials gambling on defense and St. Francis's ballhandlers successfully driving to the basket, the game was tied five minutes into the second half.
But the Red Flash's shots began clanging off the rim, its passes began ricocheting off George Washington arms and hands, and the Colonials took control with a 30-10 run that featured plenty of running.
That sprinting style had sent George Washington to an early 17-7 lead. The Colonials forced five quick turnovers, and four of their first eight field goals were dunks.
Then the St. Francis turnover geyser slowed, and the Red Flash (2-4) crept back with baseline jumpers and three-pointers, tying the game four times. St. Francis took its first lead with a minute left in the first half on a three-point play by freshman guard Grant Surprenant, who had 17 points in the half and finished with a career-high 26.
Scattered members of the crowd booed as the teams exited the court; others loudly complained about a defense that allowed St. Francis to shoot 58 percent.
Even as St. Francis stayed close early in the second half, though, George Washington's superiority became clear. The open looks disappeared; St. Francis shot just 38 percent in the second half. George Washington sophomore guard Maureece Rice began to crank up the fast break; he finished with a career-high 16 points and four assists. And in a four-minute span, St. Francis forwards Jelani Lawrence and Winston Robinson fouled out.
"They both were assistant coaches way too early in this basketball game," St. Francis Coach Bobby Jones said.
Colonials Note: Hobbs said 6-foot-9 senior forward Dokun Akingbade (Bladensburg High) will redshirt this season to give the team greater front-court depth next year.
* VIRGINIA 72, NORTHWESTERN 57: In Charlottesville, Sean Singletary scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and sparked a 24-9 run just after intermission as the Cavaliers defeated the Wildcats in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Virginia (3-1) trailed 27-26 at halftime, but Singletary had a three-pointer and three-point play in the first 1:20 of the second half to start the burst. He added two more three-pointers, and Mamadi Diane capped the run with another three-pointer.
Northwestern (3-3) missed its first 15 three-point shots and finished just 3 for 22 from behind the arc.