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Mensah-Bonsu has strong game after suspension

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pops Mensah-Bonsu kept calling for the ball
early, and his teammates gave it to him.

Mensah-Bonsu got off to a strong start and finished with 15
points and eight rebounds in his best game since returning from
suspension, leading George Washington (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) past Florida
International 70-45 on Thursday night.

"With me, if I get off to a good start, that sets the pace for
the team and it sets the pace for me, too," Mensah-Bonsu said.
"If I hit my first shot, or I get a couple of rebounds, that just
shows what kind of game it's going to be."

Mike Hall added 13 points and 10 rebounds as GW improved to 6-0,
its best start since the 1992-93 squad opened 7-0 on its way to the
NCAA tournament's round of 16. The Colonials pulled away in the
first half while holding Florida International (3-3) without a
field goal for an 8½-minute stretch.

"Today was one of the better performances on defense that we've
had since I've been here at GW," said Omar Williams, who had 13
points and six assists. "Coach has stressed that you've got to
stop guys first."

GW, coming off a victory over No. 21 Maryland on Monday, limited
the visitors to 31 percent shooting for the game, including
1-for-16 on 3-pointers. The Colonials also kept in check Sun Belt
Conference player of the week Ivan Almonte, who averaged 19 points
and 17 rebounds in wins over South Florida and Florida Tech.

FIU coach Sergio Rouco praised GW's defense -- but he also
questioned his players' shot selection and shooting.

"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," Rouco
said.

Noting that his team was 10-for-21 on free throws, Rouco said:
"Kids 11 and under make free throws. It ain't about form. It ain't
about practice. It's about being mentally tough."

With Mensah-Bonsu and Hall fronting him in the low post, Almonte
managed only five points in the first half. He finished with 16
points and seven rebounds; no other FIU player scored more than
five.

"They did cause us not to get the ball inside," Rouco said.
"They got us off our rhythm. That's their whole game plan -- not to
let people run their sets."

Mensah-Bonsu came in averaging 6.5 points and 5.5 rebounds since
sitting out GW's first three games for NCAA rules violations
related to his declaration for, then withdrawal from, the NBA
draft.

But the senior forward was outstanding at the start Thursday,
scoring GW's first six points and eight of its first 10. The first
field goal by a Colonials player other than Mensah-Bonsu was
Montrell McDonald's layup more than 8 minutes into the game.

"We wanted to try to get him off early, so we can establish our
inside presence," GW coach Karl Hobbs said. "He was a little more
relaxed. He wasn't rushing his shots. He's slowly getting himself
back game-ready."

Mensah-Bonsu was everywhere, drawing a charge, collecting three
steals, and contesting shots. When he rose to block Ismael
N'Diaye's layup with a little more than 2 minutes left in the first
half, Mensah-Bonsu fell hard to the court and rose slowly,
clutching his right arm.

Mensah-Bonsu sat out the rest of the half with what GW said was
a tweaked shoulder, but he was back on the floor at the start of
the second. The outcome was decided by then, though, and George
Washington never led by fewer than 14 points after the break.

Almonte made his only first-half baskets on tip-ins on
consecutive possessions to pull the visitors to 17-16 with 9:45
left. But Florida International then missed its next eight attempts
from the field, until McDonald was called for goaltending on Elvis
Lora's shot 70 seconds before halftime.

Before that call, seven GW players scored during a 19-2 run that
put the hosts ahead 36-18 en route to a 36-22 halftime lead.