PISCATAWAY, N.J.- It was another loss that came down to GW’s final shot. Another defeat that hung heavy on the team’s shoulders after a tight game, one that saw the Colonials shake off an early hole to return with a fierce competitive streak.
Another loss where everything seemed to hinge on the team’s last few possessions. Freshman forward Patricio Garino had just drained a clutch trey that pulled the team within one when freshman guard Joe McDonald fouled to send Rutgers to the line. Two points later, GW was three behind with eight seconds left.
No timeout was called. One final play was run. And Garino’s second attempt at a heroic long shot was too hard, ricocheting off the glass as the final buzzer rang on a 68-65 defeat.
“We’ve got to start winning some close games,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “But we can’t really win them if we keep turning the ball over. Possession is so important to us. It was tough, but I thought that we were really getting stops.”
The Colonials’ (4-6) shooting stalled out of the gate. And as the Scarlet Knights then shot out on a 13-2 run, Rutgers pulled its way to an eventual 15-point lead with three minutes and 27 seconds to play in the first half. Trying to turn the tide, GW closed the half on a 10-2 run that was capped by a long three from senior guard Lasan Kromah, putting GW down by just seven at the break.
From there, the Colonials had more momentum to start the second, soon finding itself with its first lead of the game. But GW couldn’t hang onto its slim margin, hampered by control issues despite a 41.3 percent shooting effort. The Colonials had 13 turnovers by the break, including a few costly steals that the Scarlet Knights ran back for easy baskets.
“I don’t know if it was tired legs or what, but we had our defensive breakdowns at the wrong time,” Lonergan said. “I give them credit. They go fast. I think they tired us out a little bit and we didn’t get a whole lot from our bench outside of [freshman forward] Kevin Larsen.”
The control issues continued onto the second, the team getting stripped on key possessions that would have worked to widen a GW lead. For the game, the Colonials turned it over 23 times, struggling to run an offense through the midcourt at points as Rutgers broke out its own version of the press that’s haunted GW throughout the season.
“It’s just a lot of turnovers. We’ve got to get better in that area. That area, alone, has cost us probably three games,” Lonergan said. “We work on it all the time, but it’s frustrating for everybody. We’ve just got to keep improving and hopefully we’ll get one of these wins sometime.”
The Colonials couldn’t seem to effectively penetrate Rutgers’ 2-2-1 zone throughout the first. Hampered by hesitant play from most of its guards, and traps down low for its big men, the team couldn’t seem to establish a clear dominant shooter. That proved problematic as the Scarlet Knights continued to push their way to the net, and GW’s 20 percent three-point shooting was a sign of opportunities missed.
“Give them credit on their defense, it’s not like we could just get by them on the dribble. But I thought the game, for us, was lost when we were up one and kind of had momentum, and we kept getting stops and we kept trying to throw it long,” Lonergan said. “We threw it right to their team three times.”
GW switched from a man approach to a 1-3-1 throughout play, trying to halt the Knights’ backcourt. Though the Colonials outrebounded Rutgers 45-49, it wasn’t enough to contain its guards’ slashes to the rim.
It was yet another sign of the fast-paced play that would prove challenging for GW throughout the night.
“Their offense was running. They got to the hole, their two little guards, they did what they did best,” senior forward Isaiah Armwood said.
Armwood was the lone GW player to stand out on the court, adding 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Kromah and Garino had 10 points each, with Larsen adding nine and a team-high 11 boards.
And GW’s energetic big man agreed with his coach- faced with Rutgers’ changing defenses that cycled through zones, a press and a man-to-man format, it was the Colonial turnovers that were the true gamechangers.
“It was challenging because they did exactly what they wanted us to do, they spread us out. We had a lot of turnovers and you can’t win a game like that,” Armwood said.