If George Washington were going to have a letdown, this would have been the perfect night. Fresh off an emotional victory over No. 21 Maryland in Monday night's BB&T Classic, the Colonials came back to cozy Smith Center to face a Florida International team they had beaten three straight years.
There was no letdown last night. Instead, there was a suffocating defensive performance, another dose of excellence from Mike Hall, a breakout evening from Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and an overwhelming 70-45 victory.
After toying with earlier small-conference opponents, the No. 19 Colonials (6-0) were never in trouble last night. Florida International (3-3) stayed close for almost 11 minutes, but George Washington then pulled away with a 17-1 run and led by double digits the rest of the way.
"We understand the importance of this season," said Hall, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. "We just can't take any games off."
The game's final minutes were conducted by reserves in front of an announced crowd of 2,827, which was kept busy roaring for the Colonials' walk-ons. With the win, the Colonials extended their best season-opening stretch since the 1992-1993 season.
Tomorrow, they will leave the District for the first time this season, traveling to Baltimore to face Morgan State, which is 0-8 after losing badly to Navy last night. A week later, they will host 2-6 Maryland-Eastern Shore. If they dispose of those Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams, the Colonials would be 8-0 entering their next real test, Dec. 31 at No. 25 N.C. State. George Washington hasn't been 8-0 since winning its first 11 games in the 1953-54 season.
"I think they have a wonderful team," Florida International Coach Sergio Rouco said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they go far in the NCAA tournament. They can play anybody in the country right now, anybody in the country."
But before worrying about such accolades, the Colonials needed to take care of Florida International, a Miami school that produced NBA players Raja Bell and Carlos Arroyo.
Six-foot-six Dominican Ivan Almonte, one of five foreigners on the Golden Panthers' roster, had reached double digits in points and rebounds in each of his first five games. Despite facing frequent double teams, the floppy-haired forward had 16 points and seven rebounds last night.
But he received very little help from his teammates, none of whom scored more than five points.
"I think today was one of the better performances on defense that we've had since I've been here at GW," senior forward Omar Williams said.
The Golden Panthers shot 31 percent from the field, had 19 turnovers and were 1 of 16 from three-point range.
"Pal, we shot 1 of 16 from three," Rouco said. "One of 16. I think if I go out there and kick it 16 times from the top of the key I have a better chance of making it than they do."
Guards Danilo Pinnock and Maureece Rice had sparked George Washington's offense in previous games, but last night the focus turned inside to Mensah-Bonsu. The 6-foot-9 forward had been relatively quiet in his only two games of the season, with a combined 13 points and 11 rebounds. This time, he demanded the ball from the outset, scoring the Colonials' first six points despite a defense that was collapsing around him.
Four times he was fouled before even collecting the ball; by halftime he already had 11 points. He finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds, both season highs.
With Mensah-Bonsu attracting attention, Williams often roamed free. Three times he received the ball inside and sent pretty passes to teammates for dunks; he finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
* NAVY 73, MORGAN STATE 47: Senior guard David Hooper scored 16 points off the bench, and the visiting Midshipmen beat the Bears for their second straight win. Navy (2-4) had four players score in double figures, while Morgan State (0-8) was led by guard Timothy Mathis with 11 points.