It was senior day at the Smith Center on Saturday, and while lone fourth-year forward John Kopriva posted an impressive 12 points and four rebounds, it was a GW freshman who stole the show.
Freshman forward Yuta Watanabe hit a career-high seven three-pointers to finish with 21 points and four rebounds, as four more Colonials went on to score in double figures en route to a dominant 87-65 victory over Massachusetts.
“We made shots today,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I wanted John to win on senior day. He’s done a lot for our program… He played great, our team played great and it’s nice to see us put the ball in the basket.”
The Colonials’ bench followed closely behind, as junior guard Kethan Savage put up 13 points and five rebounds, while freshman guard Paul Jorgensen added 12, going 2-2 from three-point range in the 22-point win.
A slow start for the Colonials allowed the Minutemen to jump to a 14-9 lead midway through the first half. Turnover woes seemed to plague the home team early, but GW soon found its composure and began rolling offensively.
“We were sluggish for the first three minutes, and it surprised me,” Lonergan said. “I took Yuta out after about a minute to talk to him and put Kethan in. We turned the ball over a few times, but then we played great after that.”
Sharp shooting, fittingly sparked by a pair of threes from Kopriva, became contagious. Watanabe would lead the half with 12 points as five different Colonials contributed to a whopping nine first-half three-pointers.
A 65.5 percent clip from the field and only five turnovers in the first frame helped the Colonials secure a commanding 50-28 lead heading into halftime. GW would also finish the night with 19 crucial assists, two shy of its season-high, with efficient passing that led to good looks.
“We were struggling in February, holding the ball and dribbling too much trying to create too many shots on our own, individually, and that’s not our strength,” Lonergan said. “Our guys really shared the ball today, and hopefully they see that we can be successful when we play as a team.”
The second half would bring much of the same, as GW kept up its offensive onslaught while Massachusetts struggled to get anything going. Watanabe would knock down three more from beyond the arc to round off a GW offense that shot 60 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from three on the day.
“[Yuta] kept his confidence the whole time. Truthfully, it pushed me,” Kopriva said. “You see him hitting the shots, and [I think], ‘I’ve got to make some shots myself’… He’s a key part of our team.”
The Colonials also held the Minutemen to just 39.3 percent from the field with a strong defensive effort, as Massachusetts turned the ball over 11 times in the contest and shot just 26.3 percent from three.
The win also secured GW a No. 6 spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament next week. The Colonials will return to action Thursday night at 9 p.m.
“Once we had the win secure, I got to walk off to a standing ‘o’ from the crowd. That was pretty special,” Kopriva said. “It’s been a great place to me, great to go out on a win, but we don’t want this to end. We’ve got to keep it going.”