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“We are what we are.” What’s next after George Washington loses sixth straight?

(Photo courtesy of Peyton Stoike)

FOGGY BOTTOM – Six straight losses. After starting the season 14-3, their best start since the 2013-14 season, the George Washington Revolutionaries have entered a tailspin. 

First a 67-81 loss on the road at UMass. Then, a 74-82 loss at Richmond. Next, they got upset at home by last place La Salle 70-80. They then got blown out at now No. 16 Dayton 61-83. GW once again was on the wrong side against Rhode Island, losing 65-88 at home. And, for the sixth game in-a-row, GW lost to a surging Loyola Chicago 73-81 in their most competitive game of the losing streak.

“I’ve tried it all,” said GW head coach Chris Caputo after being asked about any changes he’s made behind-the-scenes during his losing streak. “When I say change, it’s like spinning the wheel, we’ll just spin the wheel and figure it out. Whatever I said must have helped a little bit because I think we got a good result so maybe I’ll stick with that.” 

GW now sits at 12th in the standings. They are 1.5 games above last place La Salle and Saint Louis, 4.5 games above fourth-place VCU for a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and six games behind first place Richmond with eight games to go in the regular season.

Things won’t be getting any easier for GW going forward. On Tuesday, they’ll make the quick trip to Fairfax to face George Mason, which was their last win before the losing streak started. 

While the La Salle and Rhode Island games at home may have been prime opportunities to get wins during their losing streak, GW undoubtedly played their best game of that stretch on Saturday against Loyola. 

“This is the first time in a long time we came to play for two full halves,” said senior guard James Bishop after the loss on Saturday. “Today it just didn’t go our way.”

Bishop certainly did all that he could, putting up one of his most electrifying performances of the season. He had a game high 25 points and seven assists along with five rebounds, a steal, a block while shooting 10-11 from the free throw line and 3-8 from three, one of which was a highlight-reel worthy ankle-breaking step-back. 

However, the biggest story coming out of the game is redshirt freshman forward Darren Buchanan Jr., who appeared to pick up multiple knocks throughout the game before finally subbing out for good with 14 minutes left in the second half with what Caputo later confirmed was a groin injury. There is currently no timetable for his return. 

GW’s lack of depth at the center position was exposed after Buchanan went down. Graduate center Babatunde Akingbola quickly picked up his fourth foul and was subbed out for freshman forward Zamoku Weluche-Ume. Then, after Weluche-Ume played just over a minute, Akingbola was subbed back in, and promptly picked up his fifth and final foul with 9:10 left in the second half. 

Instead of going back to Weluche-Ume, Caputo made the decision to play a five-out lineup that forced graduate forward Antoine Smith Jr. and redshirt freshman forward Garrett Johnson to contend with Loyola’s physically imposing frontcourt.

For a while, it was working. GW’s offense looked as free flowing as it has all season and Johnson and Smith were doing just enough to bother graduate forward Dame Adelekun, freshman center Miles Rubin, and senior forward Philip Alston down low. 

From when Akingbola fouled out at the 9:10 mark, to just 44 seconds left in the game when freshman guard Jacoi Hutchinson made a layup, GW’s points came entirely from three pointers and free throws. Bishop hit two threes and made seven free throws, redshirt sophomore guard Maximus Edwards made two threes and Johnson made a free throw before Hutchinson’s layup. 

During that period of play, GW was able to go from being down 50-51 to their biggest lead of the night, 66-59, with 5:10 left. Then, Loyola began pounding the ball inside. Adelekun scored nine points on three and-ones to put the game out of reach for GW, exposing the Revolutionaries’ lack of interior defense without Buchanan or Akingbola.

After the game, Bishop was asked about what it was like playing a smaller, five-out lineup. 

“We haven’t spent too much time, but everyone kind of knows every position. With the lack of size, it hurts us on the defensive side.”

While the offensive upside was intriguing, it is clear that GW needs a healthy Buchanan and foul-free Akingbola to be at their best. 

That’s what makes GW’s next game at George Mason on Tuesday so concerning. If Buchanan can’t play or is not at 100%, they’ll need to figure out how to stop sophomore forward Keyshawn Hall if they want to avoid their first seven-game conference losing streak since 2009.

Hall is averaging 17.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and has been far and away George Mason’s best player this season. 

Anything that GW is able to do at this point may be too little too late. While GW started the season well win/loss wise and had some memorable moments, like the double-overtime victory over Ohio in the Bahamas and a last-second win over VCU thanks to a circus shot from Bishop, there were also plenty of red flags. Games against William and Mary, Navy, Alcorn State and Maryland Eastern Shore were all far closer than they should have been and the only Quad One opportunity that GW had during non-conference play at South Carolina ended in a blowout loss.

For a while, it looked like GW was a team that could make some real noise being led by a potential conference player of the year in Bishop, surrounded by elite young talent in Edwards, Johnson and Buchanan, and anchored by one of the best individual interior defenders in Akingbola. 

Now, Caputo appears to be tempering expectations.

“We are what we are and I thought we did a nice job,” said Caputo after the Loyola loss on Saturday. 

While Bishop has of course shown moments of greatness, it has not been consistent. He has been held to single-digit scoring five times this season and during the recent losing streak, he’s averaging just 14.0 points per game. 

Edwards, the reigning A-10 Rookie of the Year, was expected to make a significant leap. But instead, he has for the most part looked like the same player he was last season. 

And perhaps their biggest problem, GW has struggled to defend. In conference play, the Revs have allowed a league-high 83.7 points per game and in the last six games have yielded 80+ points on 48.0% shooting from the field and 40.0% shooting from three. 

So maybe this isn’t a dark horse double-bye contender. Maybe Fox Sports bracketologist Michael DeCourcy was wrong and GW isn’t on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Maybe this is a young, inexperienced team that is just struggling to avoid the infamous first round of the A-10 Tournament, affectionately known as the “pillow fight.” Maybe this is just a team that should feel good about keeping it close against the A-10’s best. 

But, that doesn’t mean they still can’t surprise some teams. The offensive potential is still there, and Bishop, Edwards, Johnson and Buchanan can all score 20+ points per game on any given night. If they’re all on, GW is still going to be a tough out for any opponent. 

Most importantly, there’s still a lot to be excited about going forward. Buchanan, Johnson, Hutchinson, Weluche-Ume and freshman guard Trey Autry have three more years of eligibility. Edwards and sophomore wing Benny Schröder have two more years. Incoming class of 2024 guard Ty Bevins looks like he can contribute right away. Buchanan recently sang the praises of freshman guard Christian Jones, who is redshirting this season, on the 3 Bid League podcast, calling him a potential Rookie of the Year candidate for next year. 

GW’s schedule doesn’t get any easier going forward. After playing at George Mason on Tuesday, they’ll host first place Richmond, then go on the road to Saint Joseph’s. 

Wins will continue to be tough to come by, especially if Buchanan is not available.