At a practice Friday, men’s basketball head coach Mike Lonergan said that graduate student Maurice Creek was due for a breakout game after struggling to regain his early-season stroke.
At the end of the first half of Sunday’s game against George Mason, Creek’s struggles were still there. He had missed his first six field goal attempts and wouldn’t score until there were two minutes left to play in the half.
But after three straight threes to start the second half, Creek would finish with 22 points and propel his team to a 66-58 victory over Mason, improving GW’s home record to 13-1.
“I told [Creek] his picture was on a milk carton because he’s been missing for a while,” Lonergan joked. “He’s one of the best shooters I ever coached, but I told him keep shooting.”
Like Creek, though, the rest of the GW lineup would struggle early. The Colonials finished the first half shooting 9-23 from the field and combined for nine turnovers, unable to create attempts for themselves or handle the ball.
Lonergan said after the game that he had trouble finding balance on the floor after two of his starting guards, sophomores Patricio Garino and Joe McDonald, were saddled with early foul trouble. Garino would eventually foul out of the game with 4:53 to play.
“I was sort of disappointed,” Lonergan said. “We had a week to prepare, I thought we’d be focused and we wanted to guard against foul trouble. Our goal was to get into halftime without any major foul trouble, and two of our best guards got into foul trouble, really, the whole game.”
Fortunately for GW (21-7, 9-5), the team’s stout defense would balance the scales, as Mason (10-18, 3-11) also shot just 32.1 percent from the field. After garnering a 12-7 lead, the Patriots would miss 10 straight field goals over a six-minute stretch, and by the end of a low-scoring half, GW would have a slim 26-24 lead.
After being unable to turn it around in recent games, it was unclear which Creek the Smith Center audience would see in the second half. The answer came quickly.
On the Colonials first possession of the half, Creek hit a three from the right wing. On the next possession, he hit another three from the left corner.
And then, in typical heat check fashion, Creek would attempt another three from the top of the key and nail it. Nine straight points and Creek had single-handedly separated GW from Mason. He would go on to score the first 11 points of the half for the Colonials and finish with 19 second-half points.
“I didn’t have the best first half and I knew that,” Creek said. “Coach just told me to keep shooting the ball. You know that’s what teams are all about, when you have a team that trusts you to your fullest abilities to make plays, you know your time is going to come.”
Along with Creek, GW would finish with three other players in double figures. Senior Isaiah Armwood recorded a double-double with 11 points and 14 boards, and sophomores Kevin Larsen and Garino would add 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Armwood led the Colonials’ pursuit on the glass, a key for GW as they held onto their lead down the stretch. Armwood and Larsen would combine for 22 rebounds on the afternoon, as GW out-rebounded the Patriots 39-34. Those boards, including 14 on the offensive glass, would lead to 18 second-chance points, compared to just eight for GMU.
“I was disappointed in how they got us on the boards,” George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt said. “At the end of the day, the eight-point margin was by three or four offensive rebounds they got, and that’s supposed to be our strength.”
While GW would stretch its lead to as many as 14, the Colonials could not close out the game due to poor shooting from the free-throw line. GW would shoot 12-22 from the line in the second half, opening the door for Mason to go on multiple runs.
Mason’s top scorers, seniors Bryon Allen and Sherrod Wright, combined for 30 points to keep the Patriots in contention, but it wouldn’t be enough, as the rest of the Patriots missed open shot after open shot.
GW will play its final home game of the regular season Wednesday when they host second-place Saint Joseph’s at 9 p.m.