(Photo courtesy of GW_MBB)
FAIRFAX – “I thought we were the best version of ourselves.”
That is how George Washington head coach Chris Caputo summarized his team’s performance after a thrilling victory over rival George Mason at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax in this year’s first rendition of the Revolutionary Rivalry.
Four of GW’s players hit double digit scoring. They were led by their star backcourt: Brendan Adams scored 22, and James Bishop was close behind with 19.
Adams was especially dangerous from behind the arc, going 5-8. Additionally, he also paced GW in rebounding, hauling down eight.
Bishop had a quiet first half, only scoring four points. But, after the break, he went on a scoring spree, making shots from all over the court, including some circus shots in the paint, and helping GW stay out in front of the Patriots and keep their narrow lead.
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) January 16, 2023
“In the first half they were sending different coverages, some traps on the ball, but then I just think our game plan going into the second half loosened me up,” said Bishop. “It got me going a little bit, gave me some opportunities to run some screens, get some space, and get some shots.”
Similarly to Bishop, George Mason’s star player, senior forward Josh Oduro, also had a quiet first half. He was held scoreless by an admirable showing from GW’s three big men, Ricky Lindo, Hunter Dean, and Noel Brown, who were consistently swarming Oduro anytime he got in the paint and not letting him get any easy shots.
Once the second half began, that all changed, as Oduro began relentlessly attacking to the rim, getting to the free throw line at will and reaching deep into his bag of post moves to end the game, and the half, with 17 points. Of Oduro’s 17 points, eight of them came from the free throw line, where he went an uncharacteristically efficient 8-10. Before this game, Oduro was only shooting 58.0% from the stripe.
Oduro wasn’t just leaned on for scoring, he also had a game high nine rebounds, tied for a team high four assists, went 1-2 from three, and had a steal and a block.
“[Oduro] is a really great player so you might not be able to stop him,” said Bishop. “But we just tried to contain him as best we can, sending different doubles, different coverages at him.
Another way GW tried to slow down Oduro and the rest of George Mason’s offensive attack was through the surprise use of a full court press. For a stretch in the second half, Caputo repeatedly blitzed the George Mason ball handlers, causing turnovers and converting easy transition baskets.
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) January 16, 2023
“I felt like trying to keep it out of Oduro’s hands and trying to double him,” said Caputo. “What I didn’t want is them just walking it up the floor, getting set, and throwing it to [Oduro] in his spots.”
Despite possessing the lead for the final 37:48 of the game, GW was never able to truly pull away. George Mason stuck around until the final buzzer, when a corner three from grad guard Devon Cooper, which would have sent the game to overtime, was just off target.
George Mason had more opportunities during the final few minutes of play. Before the missed Cooper three, Mason failed to take advantage of a rare Adams free throw miss to tie or take the lead down 75-77. Instead, freshman guard Justyn Fernandez missed an open corner three, Cooper grabbed the rebound, consequently missed another jumper, Bishop grabbed the rebound, and was fouled, sending him to the line.
Adams was asked how his team was able to stay composed down the stretch.
“It’s a rivalry game and we got a lot of older guys here,” said Adams. “Using that experience that we all have collectively, coming together and making sure that we never came apart from each other.”
With GW only having eight scholarship players remaining due to injuries to E.J. Clark, Keegan Harvey, and Daniel Nixon, it has been especially difficult for Caputo to manage his rotations when fouls come into play. This time, Caputo perfectly walked the tightrope, with Dean picking up his fourth foul with 3:51 left in the game, and Lindo and Brown both playing extended minutes with three fouls. Caputo was constantly subbing Brown and Dean in and out to try and preserve Dean’s offense, while allowing Brown, who had a foul to give, to play more aggressive on defense.
After the victory, GW now finds themselves 7th in the Atlantic 10, with a 3-2 conference record.
Off the court, GW was given a boost by the support from the traveling members of George’s Army, GW’s official student fan section, who took over the front three rows of the George Mason student section, and were an audible and visible presence throughout the game. After the game, the first thing the GW players did was run over and thank them.
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) January 17, 2023
“It’s amazing to have a crowd like that at someone else’s arena,” said Bishop. “It really gives us a boost of energy so we had to go over and thank them.”
GW earned this victory just two days after a heartbreaking loss to a shorthanded Saint Louis team that included a shocking 0-25 run.
“I didn’t think anyone was in the right frame of mind after Saturday, I know I wasn’t,” said Caputo.
GW is next in action on Saturday, Jan. 21, when they take on preseason favorites Dayton at 12:30 PM at the Smith Center. That game can be watched on USA Network and listened to on WRGW.