The Patriots (13-8, 7-1) continued their best start to an Atlantic 10 campaign since joining the conference in 2013-14 and have won 11 of 14 overall.
“To be 7-1 right now, and knowing we haven’t maxed out,” Paulsen said, “we’ve got a lot of room yet in terms of how much better we can get.”
Otis Livingston II scored 15 points, Justin Kier added 11 points and 11 rebounds, and power forward Jarred Reuter posted 10 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Patriots, who beat the Colonials for the second time after nine consecutive defeats in their Atlantic 10 initiation.
Since last February, the Patriots have won 13 of 17 in the conference’s regular season. They are a half-game ahead of Davidson and 1 ½ games in front of four teams, including Virginia Commonwealth, their opponent next Saturday in Richmond.
“Great start, but we’re not satisfied, though — not in the slightest,” said Livingston, whose team was picked to finish fourth, its highest preseason position since joining the conference. “We’re still hungry. We’ve still got a lot to get better at. We’ve got a long way to go and looking forward to getting better each day.”
The Patriots have thrived despite the absence of starters Jaire Grayer and Goanar Mar, who are expected to miss the rest of the season with foot injuries.
Livingston made all three of his free throw attempts to improve his run to 25 of 26 in the past five games; he’s 63 of 70 overall (90 percent). His teammates, however, were way off-target. The Patriots shot 11 of 26, including 10 of 22 in the second half. And that was only after they hit six of eight down the stretch.
Mason entered the game second in the conference at 74.8 percent.
“Sometimes those things happen,” Paulsen said. “But what I like is if you’re not clicking on all cylinders offensively, [you] really defend and still control the game. There were way more positives.”
Defensively, 11 consecutive opponents have failed to score 70 points.
Terry Nolan Jr. scored 15 points for the Colonials (6-14, 2-5), who lost their third straight and fifth in six games. They’ll test the Patriots again in the regular season finale March 9 at Smith Center.
GW led by eight in the first half but committed seven turnovers in the first seven minutes after intermission and began to lose ground. In all, the Colonials committed 18 turnovers.
“If you turn the ball over that much against anybody,” Coach Maurice Joseph said, “I don’t care if you’re playing the YMCA all-stars, you are going to get beat.”
The Colonials were effective in a zone defense through much of the first half, but over time, the Patriots began to solve it.
“We’ve got to play with a mixture of daring and caution,” Paulsen said. “That’s a fine line in zone offense.”
Neither team shot well in the first half, but after missing their first seven attempts and needing more than five minutes to score, the Patriots made 10 of 15. They struggled to pierce GW’s zone until Reuter, their 6-foot-7, 260-pound forward, effectively supplied backdoor passes for layups.
The Patriots were ahead 31-30 early in the second half when they scored 11 straight as part of a 17-3 run. In one stretch, they scored on seven of eight possessions to build a 15-point lead.
Faulty free throw shooting opened the door for the Colonials, who pulled within six with a minute left. However, an offensive foul with 38 seconds left wiped out a fast break and sent Joseph into a fury.
The Patriots finished the job.
Paulsen told his players, “don’t let the way the game ended — and it ended kind of in an ugly fashion — detract from what I thought was some really good basketball in the second half.”