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Senior Bryan Bynes shoots a layup early in the game against Dayton. Hatchet File Photo by Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

There’s a lot hanging over the Colonials’ heads as they travel to Brooklyn for the first round of the A-10 championship.

No one on this squad of players has won an A-10 championship game. It’s the first A-10 tournament game on a neutral site for GW since 2007 – and competition is in the Barclays Center.

On top of that, GW relies partly on four freshmen, a group of starters that has gelled at times over the season, faltered at others. Head coach Mike Lonergan said nerves are inevitable, but added that they’re not just a burden for the Colonials’ freshmen to carry. Pressure, he said, extends across an entire roster.

“I think they feel pressure. Our first few minutes against Dayton, we were missing layups early. There was a lot of pressure, we knew we had to win the game,” Lonergan said. “This is new to a lot of our guys, being in the big games. We try to tell our freshmen,’ hey you’re not freshmen anymore, you’re sophomores.’”

The Colonials will face Massachusetts at 9 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of play. It’s an opponent GW narrowly defeated earlier this season, the team’s Atlantic 10 first road win.

It was also a matchup where freshman point guard Joe McDonald didn’t play like a rookie, tallying his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 assists, with only two turnovers. As the Colonials prepare to retake the court against the Minutemen, including their talented redshirt junior guard Chaz Williams, Lonergan said it will be important for all of GW’s players to bring their best performances to the court.

“We need some of our other guys to bring some energy. That’s what we had at UMass with [senior guard Lasan] Kromah, [senior forward] Dwayne [Smith] had a pretty good game. We’ll play hard, that’s one thing we can control, how hard we play,” Lonergan said. “Rebounding is going to be key. Some of the games UMass lost this year, reading [Massachusetts head] coach [Derek] Kellogg’s quotes, a lot of it was when they gave up a lot of offensive rebounds.”

At the back of GW’s minds, no doubt, is the potential the Atlantic 10 tournament holds. Win Thursday, and the team will face Temple at 9 p.m. Friday – an opponent that the Colonials were excruciatingly close to defeating earlier this year.

And as last year’s tournament shows, when St. Bonaventure won it all, any team has a chance to walk away with the conference title and an NCAA bid. But now, Lonergan said, GW’s focus is on Thursday’s tip.

“We’re taking one game at a time. We’re pretty young and inexperienced. But I think our team is confident,” Lonergan said. “We’re trying to win one game right now. That’s all we’re trying to do.”

This article was updated March 12, 2013, to clarify that Massachusetts was GW’s first Atlantic 10 road win in the 2012-13 season, not first overall road win.

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Senior Bryan Bynes shoots a layup early in the game. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

Five.

It was a game that seemed almost scripted before play began, as senior guard Bryan Bynes returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury on Senior Day.

Four.

The game that would decide GW’s postseason future was tied at halftime.

Three.

Then, it was tied in the final minute, on senior guard Lasan Kromah’s 1,000th career point.

Two.

Overtime.

One.

A thundering Isaiah Armwood dunk put GW up. A buzzer-beater three from Dayton, after review, was no good. And the Colonials took home an 81-80 victory.

“I’m excited for the team. And I’m also excited, and I respect Bryan Bynes for coming back,” senior forward Dwayne Smith said. “Him coming back showed character. And he had an awesome game, not great, awesome. He’s part of the real reason that we won.”

The win aids GW’s search for an A-10 championship bid: while the team must wait for the official results of the Richmond, Charlotte and St. Bonaventure games to find out their final rank, it seems likely the Colonials are headed to Brooklyn.

And they’re doing it off the strength of the Armwood putback dunk, a slam so massive it shook the screw and bolt of the backboard loose, lying on the Smith Center hardwood after the game.

“It was any other dunk, it was regular. But since that was the one that put us over the top, gave us that one point, it was everything,” Armwood said. “Once I looked at the bench and saw my teammates jumping up and down, I knew I did something good.”

The Colonials started their seniors, Bryan Bynes – returning from what was thought to be a season-ending injury – and Dwayne Smith taking the floor to begin play.

GW was hot, feeding off the emotion, from the start. A quick 8-0 run allowed the team to jump out to an early lead, but Dayton soon found its strength. The Flyers easily found their way around the Colonials’ man defense, penetrating with ease.

Quick cuts to the basket and effortless midrange jumpers helped Dayton to 57.4 percent shooting on the day, shaking GW early. Pulling his team into a huddle, head coach Mike Lonergan made the switch into the zone.

“We realized that the 1-3-1 was one of the crucial changes,” Smith said. “We stuck with that, we saw our progress, and coach stayed with it. And that’s part of the reason why we won.”

And then, Dayton’s offensive effectiveness dropped. The Flyers began missing shots, or turning it over to GW without making an attempt toward the rim. Slowly, the Colonials clawed their way back into the game.

Dayton had 21 turnovers on the day, mistakes that the Colonials converted into 28 points. Feeding off its defensive energy perhaps, GW’s ball control was markedly better, turning it over just 13 times.

At halftime, the game was tied.

“It was a battle, that’s for sure. We didn’t help ourselves at the free throw line, of course,” Lonergan said. “But we made enough plays to get out of there with an overtime win.”

There would be no easy victories to be had in the Smith Center Saturday. The game saw 11 ties and 11 lead changes.

Though Dayton never quite regained its early offensive flow, the Colonials couldn’t conclusively pull away from the Flyers. GW squandered turn after turn at the free throw line, going just 20-42 on the game. They were easy points that could have helped the team extend a shaky lead- but that wasn’t in the cards.

“It’s something we have to control as a team,” Armwood said. “There’s nothing the coaches can do about it. As players, we have to step up and knock them down.”

Still, the chances at the line still proved beneficial for a team that saw its interior game suffer against the Flyers. With just six assists on the day, GW relied on cuts to the net and paint maneuvers for the bulk of its points on 45.3 percent shooting.

Five Colonials scored in double figures, including Armwood, who had 12 points and eight boards. Kromah posted 12 points and five rebounds, McDonald a team-high 16 points and five boards. But it was Smith and Bynes who shone, combining for 28 points. Smith added five boards and four steals, Bynes three boards and an assist. Their emotional energy was invaluable, Lonergan said.

“That really helped us,” Lonergan said. “Bryan being a quick guard for us on [Dayton forward Kevin] Dillard, it helped us a lot, it made our bench deeper. And Dwayne was fired up today for senior day, and he gave us more contribution than he’s been giving.”

The two seniors’ attitudes carried over to the rest of the team. It was a grinding, hard-fought win, one that saw the Colonials take a 20-5 advantage in second chance points and a 23-7 advantage on offensive rebounds.

It was the sort of fire in their bellies that the Colonials need to carry to Brooklyn.

“It’s not official yet. You never know, with our luck, what could happen,” Lonergan cautioned. “But we are happy we won.”

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The GW players cheer for Armwood as he enters the locker room following the game. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

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Freshman forward Kevin Larsen battles a tough Saint Louis defense at the Smith Center on Saturday. Cameron Lancaster | Hatchet Photographer

There weren’t any dramatic last-minute shots, or devastated players crumpling to the court. There weren’t any shouts, or disbelieving glances at the scoreboard.

But there wasn’t an upset, either. There wasn’t a rush onto the court, and there weren’t a few overjoyed players celebrating the sort of statement victory they’ve been seeking all season.

The quiet ending of GW’s loss to No. 18/19 (AP/USA Today) Saint Louis didn’t tell the whole story. As the two teams left the court, the Billikens walked away with a 66-58 victory. The Colonials walked away knowing they had, at one point, possessed a slim lead that brought with it the potential for an unexpected victory.

“Up three with seven minutes left, with three timeouts left, I thought we were in great shape,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “And we definitely had trouble getting to the line, trouble scoring. So once they got that lead, it’s hard.”

As Saint Louis got out to an early 6-0 start, the Colonials (12-15, 6-8 A-10) struggled to get inside. Shot after shot was stuffed, and the team’s post play suffered.

But after the first media timeout, GW seemed to take the court with renewed energy, feeding off freshman forward Kevin Larsen and senior forward Isaiah Armwood. Larsen was able to explode for ten first-half points, while Armwood patrolled the post, pulling down six boards. It was enough to push GW to 20-14 first-half points in the paint advantage, critical against the Billikens’ more successful shooters.

Up six at halftime, Saint Louis gleaned much of its strength off of two shooting areas where it was able to dominate GW: from three and from the charity stripe. The Billikens made four treys over the course of the first, and further widened the gap thanks to GW’s 3-for-7 line on free throws.

“Their guards were actually straight line driving us, taking us to the rim,” Lonergan said. “I knew in the second half, we were going to try to play some 1-3-1 to keep that from happening. Because we can’t get enough help the way their bigs shoot threes. Their bigs play like guards.”

Out of the break, the Colonials refocused on attacking their opponent, turning on the sort of pressure that’s stymied them so many times this season.

Switching into a zone, GW was able to disrupt Saint Louis’ game: setting screens, posting up and cutting down the Billikens’ ability to drive through the lane. It paid off: Saint Louis struggled to regain an offensive rhythm, and the Colonials took advantage of that on the other end to use a 16-4 run that gave the team a slim one-point lead.

“We were trying to speed up the tempo with the 1-3-1, and really get the ball out of the shooter’s hands,” senior guard Lasan Kromah said.

And for a while, the game stayed that tight. As Saint Louis started to find ways around GW’s zones and through its doubleteams, the two teams traded baskets. The lead volleyed back and forth, never by more than a point or two.

Slowly, though, the Billikens began to pull away. A trickle of scoring gradually turned into a stream, and combined with ill-timed Colonial turnovers, Saint Louis closed on a 21-10 run to put the game away.

“We were trying to play physical,” Lonergan said. “We missed some easy shots, our guys felt they were getting fouled. We just didn’t get any calls. It’s tough.”

Much of Saint Louis’ advantage came at the line. Though GW was able to control the perimeter more tightly, allowing just one trey in the second half, it was crippled by its 53.3 percent free throw shooting.

The Billikens shot 87.5 percent from the charity stripe- and scored many of those points down their crucial final stretch.

“I thought we just had some defensive breakdowns and they had a lot of free throws,” Kromah said. “And they made a lot of free throws. And we were sending them to the line a lot.”

The Colonials found some offensive success in the paint, with Larsen leading the charge again for 14 points and four boards. Armwood recorded five blocks on the day, adding 10 rebounds.

Senior guard Dwayne Smith and Kromah added 10 and 12 point, respectively. The two were responsible for all but three of the Colonial bench’s points in the game, the sort of veteran presence Lonergan looks for in his seniors.

“We want to leave here saying that we did something for our school, something to remember in years going on,” Kromah said. “It’s really important for us. We try to get the young guys focused, too.”

But at this point in the season, moral victories can ring hollow.

With a postseason bid and a trip to Brooklyn on the line, Lonergan and his players want just one thing- for the final scoreboard to show a Colonial victory.

“This time of the season, there’s no time for a moral victory. We have to get some wins under our belt,” Kromah said. “These next two games are going to be really important for us.”

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RICHMOND, VA.- The Colonials probably drove past the billboard touting Havoc on their way into Richmond.

They definitely glimpsed H-A-V-O-C lettered on the back of VCU’s warmups. And they couldn’t avoid the giant black and yellow flag that covered the entire student section, informing GW that “HAVOC Lives Here!”

The subject in question was VCU’s infamous havoc defense, the intense press that was the subject of recent Sports Illustrated examination and that’s resulted in the Rams leading the nation in total steals, steals per game and forced turnovers per game. Saturday night, it lead to an 84-57 loss, the most points an opponent has scored against GW this season.

“Our biggest weakness, aside from our lack of outside shooting ability, is handling pressure,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “This is a game I’ve been worried about for awhile, because you can’t really do it in practice, what they’re going to do, unless you put six guys out there. I never thought we would not calm down after awhile. And we never really did.”

At first, it seemed as if GW was poised to give VCU a taste of its own medicine, getting out to an 8-2 lead off the strength of its man defense. But the game soon became one of Rams runs, which the Colonials tried to halt with a switch into a zone.

Re-evaluating, VCU simply began to attack GW’s zone from the perimeter. Looping in multiple treys over the course of the first, the Rams slowly extended their lead before closing the half on a 14-2 run for an 18-point advantage.

Senior forward Isaiah Armwood goes up for an aggressive layup against a formidable VCU defense. Cory Weinberg | Hatchet Staff Photographer

“We tried to play a little 2-3 zone and had two mental lapses there and left the best shooter wide open,” Lonergan said. “That run at the end of the first half killed us. The game was basically over then.”

The Rams were able to supplement their defense with hot-handed shooting on the night, finishing with a 53.5 field goal percentage that included eight three-pointers. Though four players scored in double figures for VCU, particularly potent was junior forward Juvonte Reddic, who finished with 24 points and 10 boards on 11-13 shooting.

As VCU’s offensive firepower grew, so, too did its defensive crackdown. Unleashing the havoc press, the Rams forced 15 turnovers in the first alone, disrupting GW’s transition.

The Colonials continued to struggle with ball control over the final 20 minutes of play, finishing with 25 total turnovers, tying its highest total of the season, that VCU turned into 27 points. Freshman guard Joe McDonald struggled particularly in the face of the press, turning it over eight times.

“Their pressure is really good but we turned the ball over a lot on our own,” Lonergan said. “The first play of the game, we threw the ball away for no apparent reason. We definitely were shook a little bit, some guys.”

But even when the Colonials got it past the halfcourt line, they struggled to find the net, going 5-19 over the first.  Though the team upped its percentage in the second half, it still couldn’t assert a true offensive edge, finishing with a 38.9 field goal percentage. Going just 14-25 at the line, GW failed to capitalize on valuable opportunities.

“I think it’s mental toughness, it’s not nerves about the game or anything,” freshman forward Patricio Garino said. “We just have to get focused and make the free throws.”

A bright spot for GW was freshman forward Kevin Larsen, who was able to assert an advantage inside. He came close to picking up his first collegiate double-double with ten points and nine boards, and was also instrumental in aiding GW’s trips down the court.

“It was just me playing with a high intensity level. Coach has talked to me about that all week, so I was just trying to go out and play hot and it worked,” Larsen said. “But my man scored a lot on me, so I don’t really care about the stat sheet. I’m just trying to improve my defense for the next game.”

Larsen was joined in double-digits by Garino, who added 10 of his own. McDonald had eight points, while senior forward Dwayne Smith added seven off the bench.

Still, it was the kind of blowout loss GW hasn’t seen a lot of recently, and it will fall to Lonergan to ensure it doesn’t crush his team’s confidence moving forward.

“I definitely think there were nerves there,” Lonergan said. “We’ll watch the film on the way back and we have two days to prepare for Fordham.”

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Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 6:15 p.m.

Colonial comeback bid falls short

Freshman forward Kevin Larsen reaches for the ball during Saturday’s game. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

With three minutes and 51 seconds left to play, senior forward Isaiah Armwood rose up at the top of the key and drained his first three pointer of the season.  No less than 45 seconds later, from the same spot at the top of the key, he drained his second.  It was a now a five point game.

Unfortunately for the rest of the Colonials squad, that was as close as they would get.  A 4-0 La Salle run immediately following the baskets extended the lead back to nine, silencing the hard-fought comeback. It was a comeback that saw the Colonials go on an 18-3 run after being down by 20 points, but ultimately fall short, dropping 80-71.

“We got it down to five with at least two and a half minutes left,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.  “I think we just got a little too excited there and didn’t play solid defense.”

Besides the late surge in the second half, the rest of the game showed little signs of success for GW (10-10, 4-3 A-10). The Colonials looked lost on both ends of the floor during much of the first half, and the Explorers made them pay.

Coming in as one of the best three point shooting teams in the conference, ranking sixth in the A-10, La Salle easily lived up to its reputation. Neither the Colonials’ man nor zone defenses could freeze their hot hands, as the Explorers went on to shoot 50 percent from behind the arc in the first.

“They spread us out and then when we switched defenses they hit some really big threes when they needed them,” Lonergan said.

Possession after possession, the Explorers found an open D.J. Peterson or Tyreek Duren in the corner, and possession after possession, they nailed wide-open threes.  Peterson, who led all scorers at the half with 12 points, shot 4-5 from three in the first, already eclipsing his career high for three pointers in a game. At one point in the first half, with six minutes and 51 seconds left to play, La Salle had more three-point field goals, 7-13, than the Colonials did overall, 6-13.

Sophomore forward John Kopriva tries unsuccessfully to score despite his La Salle defender. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

Further constraining GW’s inability to get out on shooters was the shake-up in La Salle’s starting line-up. Opting not to go with his usual four-guard lineup, head coach Dr. John Giannini started center Steve Zack.  Likely in to disrupt the Colonial’s duo of Armwood and Larsen, Zack was most effective at the top of the key, moving in and out of screens for the Explorer guards- disrupting the coverage of the Colonial defenders.

On offense, the Colonials were just as confused, throwing passes out of bounds and committing 10 turnovers that led to 16 points for La Salle in the first half. In comparison, GW had zero points off of turnovers by the break.

“I give them credit.  Their switching defense hurt us,” Lonergan said. “We got the ball inside and they did a good job digging in and we turned it over a lot. Just looking at the stat sheet, that really hurt us.”

At the start of the second half, it looked to be more of the same for the Colonials, as they continued to look outmatched against a quicker and more experienced team.  But then the comeback began.

GW stepped up its intensity, matching the Explorer speed on defense and getting out in transition. The Colonials stepped into a full court press on defense, repaying the Explorers for the high number of turnovers they had forced, and clawing their way back into the game. With the guards still unable to create anything off the dribble though, GW was forced to change gears.

“I just said we had to play more aggressive because they were switching everything,” Lonergan said.  “And they’re all guards so we really don’t have that guy that can beat a guy off the dribble against a player like they had, so we just had to rely on being aggressive in transition.”

Even more aggressive was Lonergan’s decision to draw up some outside plays for his big men- specifically Armwood.  Looking to create mismatches at the top of the key and hopefully drive to the basket, it was certainly unexpected for Armwood to rainbow in two treys.

“If I get it and I’m open I’m gonna shoot it,” Armwood said.  ”But coach Lonergan designed the play for me to step back and knock it down, so I just shot it.”

But the surprise buckets couldn’t make up for GW’s sloppy first half, as La Salle stayed poised with time running out.  Down the stretch, the Explorers hit their last six free throws, going 17-19 on the game, highlighted by perfect 10-10 shooting from the line by guard Ramon Galloway.

Armwood led the way for GW with 17 points and nine rebounds, while senior forward Dwayne Smith and freshman guard Patricio Garino both added 11 points.  Overall, the Colonials controlled the paint, garnering a 38-22 advantage, but the 24-6 points off of turnover margin ultimately set the two teams apart.

The loss especially hurt for the Colonials as their recent three game winning streak and potent starting lineup was speculated to have produced a revitalized GW roster.

“It was kind of like we reverted back to our old ways,” Lonergan said.

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AMHERST, MASS.- As the seconds ticked down in the Mullins Center Saturday afternoon, another Colonial game was coming down to the wire.

But this time, it was GW that had the narrow three-point lead on the line. The pressure of a final possession was on the other team’s shoulders, and the momentum – the sheer will to shake off past frustrations and pull out a victory – was on the Colonials’ side.

It was an anticlimactic win. A pair of Isaiah Armwood free throws, a Dwayne Smith steal as the Minutemen tried for one last shot, and the final buzzer sounded on the Colonials’ 79-76 victory.

“We’ve had so many [frustrating losses]. I think we finally got the monkey off our backs,” freshman guard Joe McDonald said.

Freshman guard Joe McDonald attempts a shot at Saturday’s game against Massachusetts. Elizabeth Traynor | Staff Photographer

Up seven at halftime, GW’s (8-9, 2-2 A-10) lead was born of resilient play and taking advantage of its opportunities at the charity stripe.

The Colonials went 10-for-13 from the free throw line in the first half, pushing them ahead of the Minutemen, who only made it to the line once before the break. McDonald was the leading free throw shooter for GW, making 10 of 13 over play, and said getting to the line was a priority for him heading into the contest.

“In the scouting report, it showed that their guards tend to foul a lot. So I knew I would be able to draw a couple just from them guarding me,” McDonald said.

Despite turning it over 10 times, GW controlled the tempo of the game over the first half, forcing the Minutemen to commit 12 turnovers that the Colonials turned into 16 points. Massachusetts was able to exert more control after the break, but not enough to sway the final tally in its favor. The Colonials shot 49 percent on the game, fighting through scoring stalls to hold onto their narrow margin of victory.

At the game’s close, GW had 21 assists as a team- a sign the offense clicked Saturday afternoon. McDonald was responsible for half of those, tallying his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 assists. It was a sign of a team that settled down after a slow start, breaking the Massachusetts press despite the shifting Minutemen defense.

“I just wanted to run the offense. I don’t think we can go wrong if we do that,” McDonald said. “So regardless of who is on who, I just tried to look for where the mismatch was and take advantage of it.”

Their bench was one of the Colonials’ most valuable assets against Massachusetts. Adding 35 total points, it was paced by senior forward Dwayne Smith and senior guard Lasan Kromah, who added 15 and 14 points, respectively. Smith also pulled down five boards and had three steals, while Kromah added six rebounds to his stat line.

Joining them in double figures was freshman forward Patricio Garino, with 12 points, four boards and four steals. Senior forward Isaiah Armwood padded the stat sheet with eight points, seven boards and five assists.

“Lasan scored early today, and Dwayne. That’s what they’re supposed to do, they’re scorers, and we just have to get more consistent with our scoring, with our upperclassmen coming off the bench,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Lasan got off to a good start and Dwayne had some key baskets when we broke their pressure in the second half.”

GW spent most of the first half in a man-to-man defense, cracking down on the hot-handed Massachusetts backcourt. Along with their opportunities at the line, and a sizeable advantage on the boards, the Colonials entered the break with a seven-point advantage.

But the Minutemen came crawling back in the second, evening the rebounding battle at 35-34.

“They probably got yelled at in the locker room, telling them to go more aggressive and harder towards the glass,” Smith said. “That was what was showing. They increased the pressure with the rebounding, but when we see that, we just have to respond and work harder.”

GW found itself staring down a Massachusetts team that was clinging on with a better inside game and the resurgence of redshirt junior guard Chaz Williams, who finished with 18 points. They were trying to rattle the Colonials, Smith said, but the key for his team was to stay composed under the pressure.

GW switched from a man to a zone in order to contain Williams, Lonergan said, but were punished with his accuracy from three-point range.

“I just think we really didn’t do a good job with their point guard. At one point, we were trying to take his drives away, but at the end, we were trying to take his threes away, and he came down and just got our point guard back on his heels,” Lonergan said. “He’s not an easy matchup for anybody, but we wanted to try to get the ball out of his hands.”

Ultimately, the Colonials held on down the stretch, sinking key free throws over the final few minutes of play to cement their narrow win.

While it was neither a blowout nor pretty, it was an important first road victory for a GW team that stares down a tough Atlantic 10 conference this season.

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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 10:08 p.m.

Colonials fall to Temple in the final seconds

Senior forward Dwayne Smith looks for a way around his Temple defender. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

Almost.

It’s a word that rings in your ears without bringing any comfort. You could almost see the Colonials thinking it as the final buzzer rang. Almost beat Temple, as Bryan Bynes dropped into a crouch. Almost had a statement win, as Lasan Kromah punched the air. Almost, finally, nabbed a game at the wire, as Patricio Garino stared on in disbelief from the bench.

The scoreboard read Temple 55, GW 53. The Colonials had almost done it- but in a sickening sense of deja-vu that seems to ring over and over for the team, it had come down to a final possession. And the ball didn’t go in.

“It’s very frustrating. I thought we had a chance to have that lead late, and we just didn’t do a good job in ‘time to score’ situations,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

The Colonials (7-9, 1-2 A-10) watched the game slip out of their hands over the final few minutes of play, tinged by questionable calls that left Lonergan screaming from the sidelines. One sent Garino out for the game with five, after Temple convincingly sold his challenge on a drive.

“I think our crowd, when they’re that loud, I thought there was a couple of times they were pushing off, the ball went out of bounds,” Lonergan said. “There was one obvious one across from our bench, it went out of bounds. Guy told me he didn’t see it, well, you’ve got to ask your partner. They’re a good crew, they’re very good referees, I just thought the calls didn’t go our way. There were a lot of them.”

What pushed the Colonials so close Wednesday night – indeed, what put them solidly in control of the game before the break, was their defense. GW set up in a man-to-man with heavy pressure that seemed to mount as the game went on. Many times, Temple was forced to end a possession in a desperation shot. A lid seemed to be on the basket as bucket after bucket clanged out.

The Owls closed the game shooting 40.8 percent, most of their baskets coming off of a re-energized second half. On the first, Temple could only make seven baskets, entering the break down by 10. The second saw better shooting from the Owls, including potent forward Khalif Wyatt, who lit GW up for 18 after only scoring five in the first half.

“I told our guys, look at that stat sheet. The reason we’re in the game against a very good team with a very good coach and a chance to win is our defense,” Lonergan said. “We just have to figure out a way to score some more baskets.”

The Colonials’ shooting wasn’t lights-out, but they displayed key follow-through that gave them the edge at the end of the first 20 minutes of play. The players stuck with shots if they didn’t fall, grabbing a 10-6 advantage on the offensive boards and a 34-31 overall rebounding victory.

Shooting 32 percent on the game, GW was paced by senior forward Isaiah Armwood, who almost had his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and nine boards. Senior forward Dwayne Smith and senior guard Bryan Bynes each added nine off the bench, Garino posted eight.

“We got outrebounded at Xavier in front of a sold out crowd,” Lonergan said. “The thing I like about our team, we always learn from our mistakes. I feel bad for the guys. I’m proud of their effort. But we need to get that win, something to show for it.”

It was a scoring drought that, in the end, was GW’s undoing. The Colonial tally didn’t change over the final seven minutes and 53 seconds of play. That, and the team’s 63.2 percentage from the charity stripe, missed opportunities Lonergan said GW could ill afford.

“They came out in the second half, they trapped us, we turned the ball over a couple of times,” Armwood said. “That’s really what got them going, got them on the fast break.”

His head coach agreed, adding that the setback rattled the team.

“I think we panicked. We had some veterans take some threes that, just hacked up some threes. We went away from getting the ball inside,” Lonergan said.

And slowly, over the second half, Temple came chugging back, first tying it and then taking the lead with two minutes left off of a pair of free throws.

With 30 seconds left, Bynes had it. He dribbled for seven seconds, drove in, missed. Smith couldn’t put it back. And the buzzer sounded on another almost.

“The refs are human, too, and I just felt we hadn’t gotten a break. We were down two, I was playing for overtime. I didn’t want to shoot a three. We’re not a great three-point shooting team,” Lonergan said. “We were really just trying to spread it and attack the rim. [Bynes] was having a good game, he’s by far the quickest player, we just didn’t execute.”

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Senior guard Lasan Kromah releases a shot earlier this season. Hatchet File Photo by Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

First, it was Dwayne Smith. Then, it was Bryan Bynes.

After Smith’s dominant off-the-bench performance against VMI Dec. 22, it was Bynes who stepped up against Sacred Heart, ending the game with nine points, three rebounds and an assist.

If there’s ever a time for players to begin to discover their game, it’s as their team closes in on conference play. It’s an important boost of confidence, one that can spread across a team. And the impact of the improved shooting was easy to see Sunday as GW (6-6) walked away with a 77-38 victory over Sacred Heart, the team’s biggest margin of victory since 2007.

“[Bynes] has really struggled to make baskets and today, in the first half, he had eight or nine points, made some shots, and it was so much easier for our team to get some scoring out of him,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Hopefully he can build on that and keep working hard. Especially for the seniors, you want them to have no regrets and go out and have the best year of their careers.”

The opening minutes of play didn’t provide a hint of the Colonial dominance to come. The two teams played through three lead changes and a tie over roughly the first nine minutes of play.

But GW soon found its rhythm. A Bynes three before a media timeout jumpstarted the Colonial offense, peaking in a 31-10 scoring run over the final 15 minutes of the first half. GW shot 59.3 percent on the half, the team’s best first-half shooting of the season.

“We’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve been working on our shooting more than any team I’ve ever seen,” Lonergan said. “Hopefully the guys will start understanding the reason we’re bringing them in for extra shooting is so it will pay off.”

The offensive pressure didn’t relax after the break. The Colonials came out of the half strong, never letting Sacred Heart get close. And though the Pioneers attempted to stall GW’s shooting with a zone that collapsed inside, the Colonials shook off earlier shooting slumps to stay hot from the floor.

GW shot 50.9 percent overall, controlling the offensive pace of the game. Despite Sacred Heart attempting to apply pressure inside, the Colonials picked up a 38-16 points in the paint advantage, supplementing its production with a 13-8 edge in second-chance points. The team’s play was aided by its 43-37 advantage on the boards.

“I thought [senior guard] Lasan [Kromah] did a good job, he had a good floor game. We’re playing him a little at the point now because he’s a good passer,” Lonergan said. “Our competition is going to get a lot stronger than it was today but it was good to see a strong team effort.”

The scoring was spread across the team’s roster, GW picking up 39 points from its bench. All 12 of the Colonials who checked into the game scored, paced by senior guard Lasan Kromah and Smith, who added 10 points and eight and five rebounds, respectively. Senior forward Isaiah Armwood had eight points, three assists and three blocks, while freshman guard Joe McDonald had eight points, seven boards, four assists and four steals.

Also strong off the bench for GW was freshman forward Paris Maragkos, who pulled down five boards and eight points, including his first collegiate three-pointer.

“Paris, I wanted to get him some time today. His mom came over from Greece and she was with him for four or five days and she was able to see this game,” Lonergan said.

The Colonials’ wide-ranging production was made even more potent by Sacred Heart’s limited lineup. Losing a number of players to injury, the Pioneers struggled to establish a balanced game, earning just five points from their bench.

That lent itself well to GW establishing a strong transition game, tightly controlling most of the Pioneers’ trips down the court. Sacred Heart shot just 23.7 percent on the game, surrendering 19 turnovers that GW turned into 23 points and able to tally only 16 points in the paint.

“We’ve had to rely on our defense. Our field goal percentage defensively has been pretty good. We struggle to score a lot and our shooting hasn’t been very strong, so defense can be a constant for us,” Lonergan said.

The win, though not a challenging victory, was an important one for the Colonials. After multiple games that ended in a three-point defeat, it could serve as an important injection of confidence as the team looks to wrap non-conference play against Georgia Jan. 4.

After that, GW will host St. Bonaventure Jan. 9 to officially begin play in a tough A-10 field. The team is still waiting on news about injured senior forward David Pellom, Lonergan said, who is slated to see a doctor in a few days and could rejoin GW in time for A-10 play.

“It could really help us,” Lonergan said. “But we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get more out of the guys we’ve got. I’m happy with where we’re at, we’ve had some setbacks we didn’t expect the first semester, but we’ve got to keep getting better.”

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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 8:13 p.m.

Smith, Armwood help GW snap three-game skid

Sophomore forward John Kopriva looks for an open shot against Kansas State. Hatchet File Photo by Samuel Klein | Contributing Photo Editor

With five minutes and 57 seconds left to play in the second half, senior forward Dwayne Smith took a pass at the top of the key from senior guard Lasan Kromah and drained a three-pointer, giving GW its largest lead of the game, 10.

Indicative of his strong play throughout competition, it was the solid bench performance from Smith that sparked the Colonials’ offense in the second half and led them to the 76-67 win over visiting VMI.

“They came at us in a zone and did a good job against us forcing us to shoot from the outside where we weren’t having much success,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Dwayne did a great job getting the ball to the foul line and just taking the ball to the basket and really scoring when we needed scoring,”

Even with a 10-point lead, VMI’s three point shooting abilities left a quick comeback as a lingering threat. GW’s defense stayed on its toes, allowing just one VMI trey in the remaining five minutes and ultimately holding the Keydets to 9-21 shooting from behind the arc – a step down for a team that averages 29 three-point attempts per game.

“We were trying to switch on a lot of screens just to take the three point line away from them and stay out on their shooters,” Lonergan said. “Their guards are small and we wanted to make them take contested threes.”

Though GW’s defense remained stingy throughout the course of the game, it was unclear at the start if their offense could take advantage of that success. The Colonials shot just 36.4 percent from the field in the first half. Their backcourt was a combined 2-13 shooting, exemplary of the Colonials outside struggles, as they went 0-7 from behind the arc in the first.

Despite this, GW still held a 35-29 lead at the half, most in thanks to the 10 points from senior forward Isaiah Armwood and the team’s consistent free throw shooting. The Colonials shot 84.6 percent from the line in the first half, and went on to go 19-22 for the game-a statistic Lonergan called the the difference-maker in the win.

With a renewed sense of energy and a want to find better shots, the second half became Smith’s show. Smith scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half off of 8-11 shooting, and added three rebounds for the game- all in just 12 minutes of playing time. His 18 points brought GW’s bench scoring up to 35 – its highest total of the season – compared to just 16 points for the Keydets. Smith’s secondary presence on the inside helped the Colonials dominate the paint, outscoring VMI 42-20 in that category.

Adding on to Smith’s success was the strong play of fellow senior forward Armwood- something that has come to be expected of him this season.  Armwood ended the game with 18 points, going 6-7 from the free throw line and grabbing nine rebounds.

The great play from GW’s bigs, including forwards freshman Kevin Larsen and sophomore John Kopriva who finished with six points apiece, allowed the team to outrebound the Keydets 48-33 and put up 16 total second chance points.

“Our front court players did a good job wearing VMI down and scoring when we were struggling to shoot the ball from the outside,” Lonergan said.

The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Colonials and gives them some positive thoughts as they move forward into an eight day holiday break. GW will take on Sacred Heart in their next game Dec. 30, just one of two games remaining before the start of A-10 conference play.

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Sophomore forward John Kopriva looks for an open shot against Kansas State. Samuel Klein | Contributing Photo Editor

The Colonials are a team in search of a statement win, and they almost had it against Kansas State Saturday afternoon.

The Smith Center was a deafening sea of Buff, the attendance at a season-high 3,570. GW (4-5) was down by just three points to its Big 12 opponent, with 13 seconds left, and it had the ball.

Out of a Colonial timeout, freshman forward Patricio Garino, tasked with the inbound, found senior Dwayne Smith. And with the seconds ticking down, Smith had one chance- but his trey attempt hit the corner of the rim, falling out, and the buzzer sounded on GW’s 65-62 loss.

“It was a clean look. When I got the pass from Patricio, I came off [senior guard] Lasan [Kromah’s] screen and shot the ball. And it was a miss. But it was an open look, and it was a well-written up play,” Smith said. “It just didn’t go in.”

From the outset, it was clear that the ball control struggles the Colonials have recently had out of the gates weren’t wholly in the cards. Kansas State won the tip- and used the ensuing drive to get on the board, but the Colonials were able to answer right away. GW shot 42.3 percent on the first half, including 66.7 percent from three, and turned it over only five times, able to penetrate the Wildcats’ zone while taking it to the rim.

GW would go on to record 12 turnovers on the game, a significant drop from contests past, and a solid effort against a team that brought a physical halfcourt defense to the floor.

“[Turnovers] cost us the Mount [Saint Mary’s] game and cost us the Bradley game, they had 17 seals. So guys learn from it. And we’re trying to be tougher with the basketball,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

Even when faced with a shooting slump midway through the first half, GW didn’t panic. Much of its lead – which the Colonials didn’t relinquish throughout the half after gaining it in the game’s opening minutes – came off the strength of GW’s man-to-man defense. Starting the game, Kansas State was almost frozen, unable to push through the Colonials’ screens and heavy pressure.

GW would remain solid defensively for much of the game, holding the Wildcats to 35.7 percent shooting and recording 12 blocks. At times, the team switched into its 1-3-1 defense, trying to answer the hot-handed shooting of Wildcats guards, but it was difficult to maintain one concentrated defensive effort, Lonergan said.

“They’ve got so many good three-point shooters, it’s hard to stay in a defense,” Lonergan said. “It’s a defense we like to play and it keeps the guards from penetrating as much. I wish we could have stayed in it a little bit longer.”

Senior forward Isaiah Armwood continued to be the most exciting, energetic player in front of a packed and loud Smith Center. He recorded 12 points, 10 boards and seven blocks on the game, becoming the focal point of both GW’s defense and offense.

“I didn’t even know I had that many [blocks] until I looked at this paper, but it’s just instinct,” Armwood said. “It’s not a rhythm. I wouldn’t even consider myself a shot blocker, but it happens.”

But the battle at the boards would become one of the key difference makers during the game. The Wildcats exited the court with a 46-36 rebounding advantage, including a significant 24-11 edge on the offensive glass. That was the “killer,” Lonergan said.

“They were probably the best [rebounding team] we’ve seen so far this year. We knew coming into this game it was going up against a battle with them,” Armwood said. “Obviously, they won that battle. That’s one of the main reasons they won the game. They beat us on both defensive and offensive boards.”

Head coach Mike Lonergan, clad in a Buff blazer for the occasion, calls to his team from the sidelines. Samuel Klein | Contributing Photo Editor

That was enough to lend a slight advantage to the Wildcats during a tightly contested game. Kansas State was able to find more offensive success after the break, using a run toward the beginning of the second to pull even with and then ahead of the Colonials.

It was a gritty game- both teams were physical, sticking with their possessions and playing with high-energy tempos. But in the second half, the Wildcats were more solid defensively, pushing GW off of its shots. Though the Colonials exited the game with a 41.5 shooting percentage, about even with its initial performance, GW’s three-point shooting dropped to just 20 percent on the second half.

“Whether it’s Isaiah or another guy, we just need another guy we can depend on offensively to get a bucket,” Lonergan said. “We struggle to score at times, as you can see. Dwayne helped us today but we’ve got to get another guy to make a basket when we really need one, because we just can’t get behind.”

The loss was a disappointing one, to be sure, but not wholly disheartening. GW kept pace with Kansas State throughout the game, through seven ties and six lead changes.

Kromah joined Armwood with 12 points, adding seven boards and two steals, and Garino added a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. And GW’s bench gave it 22 points, including a renewed effort from Smith, who added 14 points and five boards during the game.

“I thought Dwayne was terrific. He worked really hard this spring and in the summer, so we’ve all been kind of disappointed that he hasn’t been as successful as we’ve wanted. Today, he was ready to play,” Lonergan said. “Defensively, as well. He did a really good job for us throughout the game.”

Moreover, coach and players agreed, the defeat held more promise heading forward than losses past.

“I think, with the way we played, nobody is disappointed with the effort that me and my teammates gave,” Armwood said. “There’s a whole bunch of plays that we could have picked up, and we could have done better. We just need to go back in practice and execute.”

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