At home and coming off a loss, a win for GW was supposed to be a formality. The team was 13-0 at home and had yet to lose back-to-back games.
But this was Massachusetts – the once No. 13 ranked team in the country.
So despite a furious comeback while down by as many as 11 points in the second half, the Colonials couldn’t pull out the victory, falling to the Minutemen 67-61.
Though it wasn’t a must win situation for the Colonials, as Lonergan said, it was a “golden opportunity” given away.
“Our inside guys were not scoring and I think we were settling for some jumpers and fadeaways and just not playing tough enough,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We shot a low percentage and they did a good job taking away our inside game.”
Eight lead changes, five tied scores and a seven-minute stretch in the second half that saw each team within at least three points. In the house: ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and GW Hall of Famer John Flaherty.
But a magical 20th win seems to be elusive, as an ice-cold shooting night and mental mistakes in the closing minutes ultimately did in the Colonials.
GW, the best field goal percentage team in the Atlantic 10 entering the game, would shoot 36.7 percent for the night, going 4-13 from behind the arc. UMass on the other hand, would shoot 49 percent, led by 20 points on 4-5 three-point shooting from redshirt senior Carter Sampson.
Sampson, along with 250-pound center Cady Lalanne, would make it a rough night for forwards Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen. The duo would score a combined 23 points on 8-25 shooting, while turning the ball over five times.
“Lalanne is a big body in there,” Armwood said. “Usually we aren’t used to playing a guy that size, we were rushing a little bit. They just bothered us, took us out of our comfort zone.
With 11:31 to play, though, it looked like things were turning in the Colonials’ favor. Down 49-40, UMass star Chaz Williams was called for his fourth foul while guarding sophomore Patricio Garino on a fast break. He fell to the ground and raised his arms in protest as the Colonial Army raised their arms in exuberance.
Over the next six-minute stretch, with Williams on the bench, GW got hot. Five consecutive points from graduate transfer Maurice Creek and it was a five-point game. A left-handed reverse layup from Garino less than a minute later and it was a one-point game.
That was enough for UMass head coach Derek Kellogg and back in went Williams with four fouls.
“I think that was the stretch that we started running, we had made a couple transition buckets that gave us the lead,” Garino said. “We just needed that energy through the whole game
In that moment, GW looked poised to handle the pressure, as another reverse layup from Garino off an assist from sophomore Joe McDonald gave them their first lead since the 9:56 mark in the first.
Garino would finish with a team-high 20 points and three steals – the only player, Lonergan said, that was able to attack the basket as his team struggled to shoot.
But from then on, the Minutemen would successfully walk the tight rope that was foul trouble. Only redshirt junior Maxie Esho would foul out, but in addition to Williams, Carter and forward Raphiael Putney were also forced to deal with four fouls down the stretch.
For the majority of the game, it was the Minutemen letting the Colonials hang around, going 12-26 at the free-throw line. But missed jumpers and mental mistakes, like a foul by Creek on a three-point shooting Trey Davis, would hand the game back to UMass.
“That was a big win for us in a hostile environment against a team which I think is definitely an NCAA caliber team,” Kellogg said. “We never gave in, they never quit, in my college estimation it was a very good basketball game.”
Lonergan once again received no help from his bench – the only reserve production coming on a three from senior Nemanja Mikic with 15:30 to play in the second half. But Lonergan was not at all surprised, emphasizing the limited six-man rotation that he realistically has to play with.
GW will look to avoid making it three-straight losses when it heads to Richmond Tuesday at 7 p.m.