Tony Bennett saw a coachable moment with six minutes left in the game Sunday and his team ahead by 20. Just two minutes earlier, that lead had been 31. If your math skills are as good as mine, you recognize that means George Washington reeled off an 11-0 run. Eleven points in 2 minutes? This was after ripping off 8-0 in just over two minutes to start the half. So with his team up by 20 with just six minutes to go, Tony Bennett put his starters back in. It wasn't about going for that 40-point margin of victory or kicking your overmatched opponent in the throat a few times when he's down. It was about what it means to play Virginia Basketball. You don't throw the ball away, give up open shots and second chances.
Ty Jerome gave George Washington coach Maurice Joseph a coachable moment in the first half when he sat behind the ramparts of a Mamadi Diakite ball screen out in the JPJ parking lot and unlimbered the howitzer. The poor defender who thought it was safe to go under the screen THREE MILES FROM THE BASKET turned to his coach with his palms up, the universal sign of "How was I supposed to know, Coach?" Either he didn't read the scouting report, he didn't believe it, or the assistant coach who drew it up failed to write, "Pick up Ty Jerome at the center line. He's a threat to shoot from anywhere in the offensive zone." By now everybody should be able to find Tyland on the map. I believe the United Nations has extended diplomatic recognition.
The referees also contributed a number of coachable moments. In fact, there were so many play stoppages I was starting to think they thought they were the coaches at a secret scrimmage. "Ok guys, set it up again." The encouraging thing was that in the first half, it didn't seem to matter who was sitting in Coach Bennett's Penalty Box, the slaughter on the court continued. Bennett talked about it after the game, and you could tell he enjoyed having that reinforcement to move the feet and get to the spot. The way the referees were blowing the whistle, I'm not going to kill Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff for their two fouls. Mamadi's first was the kind that makes me throw tufts of hair at the TV (the late hedge). His second was about as soft as Carvel ice cream after thirty minutes in the sun. After those quick two in the first half, Mamadi was able to play the rest of the game with only one more foul.
Some Random Observations From a Meaningless Game
- Raise your hand if you thought Kihei Clark would be third on the team in minutes in any game this year. Now go jump in a lake because your pants are on fire and I don't want your junk to burn. Can't stand the smell.
- Early returns suggest Braxton Key is going to fill Isaiah Wilkins' role on the team of having a far bigger positive impact on the game than his box score line would indicate he had. Through two games he is averaging 6 points and 6 rebounds per game, but he was the Glue Hoo of the Game against Towson with a Zayish 17 Glue Index - good for a tie for #13 on the all-time list. Not bad for a guy's first game. I like his insertion into the starting lineup. I also like Kihei being the first guy in the game when Bennett needed a coaching moment with Hunter. It appears Bennett is committed to the smaller lineup, and I've long been a proponent of smaller lineups. I just think height is easier to cope with than quickness, so if you can be quicker than your opponent, you gain the tactical upper hand.
- Don't try to draw much insight out of this game. Contests with woefully overmatched opponents rarely tell you much. Comparisons with past years suggest that the pace and stats are comparable and that the ACC pace will be the same. There just really are not meaningful lessons we as fans can draw from these games. Jay Huff played 24 minutes in the second game last season. I've seen nothing to suggest his playing time later this year will be different than it was last year.
- It was good to see the determined effort to involve the post in the offense, but Jack Salt gave no sign that his hard work in the offseason has made him any more effective a post scorer. I did like his follow in the lane, but his post moves and failure to catch the pass from Ty on a roll don't inspire confidence that we'll see any real improvement on the floor.
- I know coach has to coach and you never as a coach overlook your team coasting, but I was happy to see the players having fun. It's a long campaign and you don't need to expend all your energy in an opening skirmish. Fact is, veteran teams learn when to coast and preserve the mental capital for later. My biggest fear during the offseason was that the players would be too intense, adopt a too-businesslike approach to the season and weigh themselves down with an overburden of purpose. Intensity, business, purpose are all vitally important, but so is fun. Teams that play with joy and love perform better - especially when it really matters. This team appears to have kept that joy, which is credit to the leadership.
- The Mongoose is a joy to watch. His defensive stance is fantastic. He gets low and spreads out as wide as he can. With those hands spread out wide, he is not easy to get around. He gets to spots and doesn't reach in or slap. And on offense his 9:2 A:TO after two games is even better than Jerome's 11:4. The three guards together were 14:4 on Sunday.
- I wonder how Ralph Sampson would have done in the Packline. I watched the beginning of the 1981 Final Four game and we were in a zone.
- Keon Johnson and Reece Beekman were there - as was Bryce Perkins as a recruiter. Let's hope he scores a touchdown.
We're 2-0 and the players are playing with passion and pride, so it's a very good first week.
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