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Kethan Savage

VCU sophomore Mo Alie-Cox steals the ball from GW's Kethan Savage in the second half of the game at the Siegel Center on Tuesday night. The Colonials fell to the Rams 48-72. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

VCU sophomore Mo Alie-Cox steals the ball from GW’s Kethan Savage in the second half of the game at the Siegel Center on Tuesday night. The Colonials fell to the Rams 48-72. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

The 60th consecutive sold-out crowd at the Siegel Center erupted with just under 13 minutes to play in the second half when VCU sophomore guard Mo Alie-Cox stole a pass and threw down a dunk to put his team up by 16.

The Rams were in the middle of an 11-0 run that would catapult them to an 18-point lead over the Colonials, who were only trailing by four a few minutes earlier.

Despite a strong GW start, No. 14 VCU (17-3, 7-0 Atlantic 10) would shoot 48.6 percent from the field in the second half to go on to secure a dominant 72-48 win over the Colonials (16-5, 6-2) Tuesday night in Richmond.

“I thought we played awful,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “But give VCU a lot of credit. Their defense had a lot to do with it, but we didn’t share the ball, we took bad shots, we missed good shots, and a lot of our turnovers weren’t even the defense as much as just being undisciplined.”

Despite a game-high 18 points from junior guard Kethan Savage, the Colonials would finish the night shooting just 26.9 percent from the field after going an anemic 19.2 percent in the second half, their worst mark in a half this season.

GW would also end the game with 16 turnovers to VCU’s eight, but the real effect of head coach Shaka Smart’s “havoc” defense was in destroying the Colonials’ passing game. GW tried to run long outlet looks and get up in transition, but managed just three assists on the night.

Junior guards Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and Savage would combine for 28 points and 17 rebounds, with junior forward Kevin Larsen adding a game-high nine boards. But GW would not get much else offensively, and the Colonials’ defense that ranked 30th in the nation in points allowed entering Tuesday’s contest couldn’t keep them in the game.

Junior Joe McDonald jumps for the basket over against VCU on Tuesday night. McDonald shot 2 for 9 from the field as the Colonials fell 48-72 by the Rams. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Joe McDonald jumps for the basket against VCU on Tuesday night. McDonald shot 2 for 9 from the field as the Colonials fell 48-72 by the Rams. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

“I just thought we weren’t committed to playing team defense,” Lonergan said. “When some of our guys aren’t scoring, it really affects our defense in a negative way. We’ve got to figure out a way to change that.”

Three Rams players – including freshman guard Terry Larrier with a team-leading 15 points – would score in double figures as VCU would go 41.9 percent from the field on the night. Although GW came into the contest with the best rebounding margin in the A-10, four VCU players would collect seven rebounds or more, en route to a 47-36 rebounding edge on the glass.

“[Being out-rebounded had to do with] effort and us not boxing out,” Lonergan said. “They just manhandled us on the glass, and we stood around a lot. I didn’t expect us to get out-rebounded by 11.”

On the Rams’ first drive, Garino was able to get a steal and take it all the way down for the game’s first bucket. The Colonials seemed to be rolling in the first few minutes, moving the ball efficiently to find open looks, and jumped to an early 7-2 lead on the road.

But VCU stuck to its game plan and began to frustrate GW offensively. They Colonials would finish the half shooting 34.6 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three. They would be out-rebounded 20-16 in the first half despite junior forward Kevin Larsen’s team-high six boards.

The Rams would also close out the half shooting 34.6 percent from the field behind Larrier, who led the half with 11 points, but added three from deep while forcing eight GW turnovers to head into the break up 29-21.

“We put in some rules, no behind the back dribbles, no spin moves … but you know the game comes and we played right into their hands,” Lonergan said. “When they get a breakaway dunk or lay up, it gives the crowd a lot of energy. It’s intimidating, but I just thought we lacked energy. They took it from us, but we never really got back in it.”

The Colonials never had a chance to get into a rhythm in the second half, during which they made just five field goals. While nearly every player for GW was struggling to score – even Savage’s point total was bolstered by a 9-9 mark at the free-throw line – VCU’s reserves were rolling, outscoring GW’s bench 38-7.

Following a win over Duquesne in which they hit a season-high 12 three-pointers, the Colonials would go just one for 17 from three-point range on the night while VCU would hit five of 22.

The Colonials will look to turn things around Saturday when they take on Rhode Island on the road at 4 p.m.

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Rising up, Junior Kethan Savage shoots his first three pointer of the afternoon. Savage was 3 out of 4 from behind the arc. Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Rising up, Junior Kethan Savage shoots his first three pointer of the afternoon. Savage was 3 out of 4 from behind the arc. Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

It was 41 degrees and cloudy Saturday afternoon in the District, with light showers, winds from the southwest, and torrential downpour 3-pointers in the Smith Center.

The Colonials rained down 12 threes in a Homecoming beatdown of Duquesne on their way to a 74-59 victory.

Patricio Garino scored a game-high 20 points, Joe McDonald added 16, rookie Paul Jorgensen added a career-high 13 and Kethan Savage had a career-high eight of GW’s 17 assists on a night when guard play did it all for GW.

“We knew we would get open shots around the wings, but we also just talked about not settling,” McDonald said. “Kethan did a great job shooting the ball.”

GW hit four assisted 3-pointers to open the game. McDonald found Savage for the first, then Savage returned the favor twice, then McDonald stayed in the giving spirit with a dish to Nick Griffin who also hit for three.

Then Griffin put the Colonials up 15-9 with their fifth consecutive triple, this time doing it all by himself.

“They were going to pack it in which they did,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Kethan and Joe shot well and they gave us open shots. We’ve been shooting better lately but you’re at home and you’ve got wide open threes and you’ve got to knock it down. We made more than I expected.”

Duquesne set in its two-three zone, and the Colonials, finding it unnecessary to bother trying to penetrate it, went up 18-9 with their sixth three in a row, this time from Jorgensen.

Jorgensen, for variety’s sake if nothing else, hit a reverse layup on the next possession after GW got numbers up ahead off a steal by Savage. Despite scoring just 24 of their points in the paint on a night when Kevin Larsen and John Kopriva scored a combined four points, GW shot 48.1 percent for the game while Duquense shot 44 percent.

Still, the first half was a defensive beatdown above all. GW doubled-up Duquesne 40-18 in the first half where they took 60 percent of the shot attempts.

“We played really good man-to-man defense. Patricio is a terrific defender. We put Joe on [Derrick] Colter and we put Kethan on [Micah] Mason, and then we put Patricio to be able to help off, usually he guards the best player but today I wanted him to be able to be our help guy so we made them take some bad shots, some contested shots,” Lonergan said.

The second half began just like the first, a top-of-the-key three by McDonald, followed up by a McDonald-assisted three from Savage.

But the rest of the second half wasn’t as dominant, though it didn’t matter as GW enjoyed a 36 point lead

Freshman Paul Jorgensen celebrates a 3-pointer in the Colonials win against Duquesne on Saturday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Freshman Paul Jorgensen celebrates a 3-pointer in the Colonials win against Duquesne on Saturday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

with 13 minutes to go, the Colonials were outscored 41-34 and held without a field goal for nearly eight minutes.

“It was disappointing at the end but I told them in the locker room, that’s why some of the guys don’t play a lot,” Lonergan said. “Five years ago I would have left here in a bad mood but I get the bigger picture now.”

Colter found some looks against the man-defense to score nine of his 12 points in the second half. He was the only player for the Dukes to finish in double figures, though he got some help from the Duquesne bench that outscored GW’s reserves 30-25.

Sixth man Yuta Watanabe checked in at the first changing of the guard for Lonergan, the familiar “Yu-ta, Yu-ta, Yu-ta” resonating in the Smith Center with some extra emphasis after Watanabe sprained his ankle in GW’s last game against Fordham. Watanabe was limited to 15 minutes and three points and Lonergan said that he wasn’t 100 percent for the game.

But without Watanabe, the energetic Jorgensen had a breakout game. He broke the scoring drought with a layup with 2:10 remaining, and forty seconds later he was joined on the court by fellow rookies Darian Bryant, Matt Cimino and Anthony Swan and junior Ryan McCoy to close out the game. Duquesne had finally reached the fifty-point mark, but the faint smell of Red Auerbach’s cigar smoke seemed to have joined the Homecoming crowd in the Smith Center, where the Colonials have an unblemished record this season.

“I think we’ve played more focused now, we’ve focused on defense and we’re obviously making more shots. Our confidence is up.,” Garino said. “Away I think we’ve stayed a little more calm and used the experience we had to win the games.”

Momentum, experience and anything else will be welcome for the Colonials as they head on the road Tuesday for a 7 p.m. matchup at No. 16 VCU.

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Senior John Kopriva scored 19 points, tying a career-high, to lead the Colonials in a 79-59 rout of Fordham. Mark Eisenhauer | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Senior John Kopriva scored 19 points, tying a career-high, to lead the Colonials in a 79-59 rout of Fordham. Mark Eisenhauer | Hatchet Staff Photographer

BRONX, N.Y.– Senior forward John Kopriva isn’t known for putting up big numbers.

But at Fordham on Thursday night, the Colonials’ captain racked up a career-high, game-leading 19 points, adding three rebounds and two blocks to help propel his team to a 79-59 victory on the road.

“The ball was going in the basket,” Kopriva said. “I was able to do a post move, that was my first bucket, and that always helps you get going and get a basket by the rim. And from there, I was just able to get some good looks.”

But Kopriva was only one of many who ran up the scoreboard. All five GW starters, including juniors Patricio Garino, Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen, would finish the night in double figures.

Garino followed Kopriva with 16 points and co-led the Colonials in rebounds with eight, as Larsen would put up the same number while adding 11 points and three assists of his own.

“[When John is scoring], it takes the defense away from us,” Garino said. “And I think having five players that can score at the same time on the court is very hard to guard, so it helps everybody.”

Despite playing in front of a raucous Bronx crowd celebrating the 90th birthday of Rose Hill Gymnasium, the oldest gym in Division I basketball, GW came out with intensity early and put the Rams in an 8-0 hole in the first three minutes of the game. The start stood in stark contrast to GW’s last game at Rose Hill, a narrow win in which the Colonials looked sleepy and out of sync.

“Last year, we came out here and lacked energy from the beginning and were fortunate to get out of here with a win, so we were really focused on this game, and I thought our guys did a great job getting off to a good start,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

In the first half, it seemed like every Colonials’ shot was falling. Led by Garino’s 11 points before halftime, the team went a whopping 70.8 percent from the field in the opening frame to the Rams’ 37.9.

GW also went 3-6 from beyond the arc in the first half, while adding 15 rebounds to take a 41-27 lead at halftime.

One of the few tense moments for the substantial visiting crowd was when freshman Yuta Watanabe fell awkwardly on his right ankle about halfway through the first half. Watanabe did not return to the game, totaling just nine minutes on the night. Lonergan described the injury as a sprained ankle.

Absent their sixth man for the rest of the game, GW’s bench was outscored 8-20, mostly due to the resurgent performance of sophomore Jon Severe, who scored 12 points for the Rams. Severe was an A-10 All-Rookie selection last year, when he averaged more than 17 points per game, but took a month-long leave of absence from the team this season and was averaging just 2.7 points entering the game.

The Colonials’ hot shooting cooled off in the second half, as the team went just 41.7 percent from the field in the frame, but the already sizable lead and 22 second-half rebounds allowed GW to pull away with the 20-point victory.

GW would finish the night outshooting the Rams 56.3 percent to 36.1 and out-rebounding Fordham 37-30. The Colonials were able to post 15 assists to their opponent’s 11, a statistic they have struggled with this season.

“We want to be consistent, and we haven’t shared the ball … We’re second to last in assists in our conference, and we focused on that tonight,” Lonergan said. “I know Patricio had two assists in the first two minutes of the game, and we got our assists up today.”

The Colonials return to the Smith Center on Saturday to take on Duquesne at 2 p.m.

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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 9:08 p.m.

Preview: Men’s basketball vs. Fordham

Patrico Garino goes up for a dunk in GW's 63-50 loss to La Salle on Saturday. The Colonials lost their fourth game of the season, each one having come on the road. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Junior guard/forward Patricio Garino goes up for a dunk in GW’s 63-50 loss to La Salle earlier this season. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

What: GW (14-4, 4-1 A-10) vs. Fordham (5-11, 0-5 A-10)
Where: Rose Hill Gym, Bronx, N.Y. NBC Sports Network.
When: Thursday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.

After winning two straight at home, GW heads on the road to face a Fordham team still searching for its first conference win.

The Colonials are the favorite to win on the road, but will be tasked with containing the likes of Eric Paschall, who’s scoring nearly 17 points per game for the Rams, and strong rebounder Ryan Rhoomes.

The case for Fordham:
The Colonials have struggled on the road, and a trip to the historic Rose Hill gymnasium isn’t something to overlook as the Rams just celebrated the arena’s 90th birthday. Fordham struggled last year as well, but the Colonials still needed six threes from Maurice Creek to win 70-67 last March in the Bronx.

Also, a desperate team is tough to write off. The Colonials dropped a road game to winless La Salle that they were expected to win, and something is bound to go right eventually for Fordham.

The Rams are strong off the glass in the Atlantic 10, pulling down a fourth-best 37.0 rebounds per game, ranking first in the conference with 13.0 offensive rebounds per game and boasting a +4.3 rebounding margin. They’ll need to crash the boards hard to get enough chances against GW’s defense. But the Colonials’ offense hasn’t been clicking, so any extra possessions would be valuable.

The case for GW:
The Rams are a struggling team that could give GW a chance to get a big win after some scares against Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s so far in conference play.

GW’s defense, ranked third in the league, should be able to shut down Fordham’s offense, tied for 12th in the A-10. Fordham’s field goal percentage, .401, is the lowest in the A-10, but GW’s opponents have actually shot the ball worse so far this season. Teams are shooting just .395 against GW, so points could be at a premium Thursday.

Fordham’s young core bunch doesn’t hang on to the ball well, either. The Rams give the ball away 16.3 times per game, an A-10 worst, and while GW’s defense isn’t predicated on getting steals, experienced playmakers like Patricio Garino and Kethan Savage could be dangerous.

Freshman Paul Jorgensen, who will be back near his hometown, could see more minutes with classmate Darian Bryant out with a concussion. Jorgensen has shown energy and strong dribbling skills in limited minutes so far and could turn on the jets in front of friends and family if the Colonials are able to flex some muscle Thursday night.

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Junior Joe McDonald jumps for a lay up against George Mason on Saturday. McDonald totaled 12 points as the Colonials defeated the Patriots 63-53. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Joe McDonald jumps for a lay up against George Mason on Saturday. McDonald totaled 12 points as the Colonials defeated the Patriots 63-53. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Midway through the second half, the Colonials were only up by six. Freshman Yuta Watanabe received the ball in the corner and put up a three.

Uncharacteristically, he air balled. But a big stop at the other end gave junior guard Patricio Garino a fast break chance, which he converted into a three-point play after being fouled on his layup attempt that fell, to put his team up 46-37.

The sequence embodied an up and down game in which the Colonials struggled from the field at times, but ended in another conference win for GW, taking down visiting George Mason 63-53 Saturday afternoon.

“I think last year we couldn’t close the close games, but now we have more experience,” Garino said. “We’re staying calm and executing play by play.”

Garino led the Colonials with 14 points and added five rebounds, followed by junior point guard Joe McDonald who had 12 points, knocking down three from beyond the arc, one shy of tying his career-high.

Despite being outrebounded 39-35 and outscored 28-14 in the paint, GW would pull off the 10-point win shooting 35 percent from the field and from three largely by going 23-31 from the foul line.

“[Free throws] are mental, but they’re contagious too so I’m glad we’re starting to make them because it keeps the other team from being able to get back in the game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

A signature alley-oop from junior guard Kethan Savage to Garino began the game with an exclamation point. Savage added 10 points and led the team with six rebounds in the GW victory.

With momentum on their side, the Colonials cruised in the opening minutes, going 4-5 from the field with two threes from junior guard Joe McDonald and senior forward John Kopriva contributing to an early 7-0 run. Kopriva would lead his team at the half with seven points and four boards.

But George Mason responded with a run of its own. Led by 6-11 freshman center Shevon Thompson, who would double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds on the day, the Patriots went on an 8-0 run later in the half to pull within one.

Despite the strong start, GW would miss ten consecutive field goals, but stayed in the game at the line, where they shot 82 percent on eleven attempts. While the Colonials went only 28 percent from the field in the first half,

Junior Patricio Garino led the Colonials in scoring on Saturday with 14 points. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Patricio Garino led the Colonials in scoring on Saturday with 14 points. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

the Patriots would double GW in turnovers helping the home team secure a 26-20 lead at halftime.

“The first four out of five baskets were assisted on, and I think after that we only had one for the rest of the half,” McDonald said. “We addressed it at halftime and I think we did a lot better job in the second half.”

The Colonials would get a scare early in the second half when McDonald limped off the court with an apparent injury, leading his team with eight points as he headed into the locker room, but would return a few minutes later to a roaring ovation.

“I think we were even more focused when Joe went down, but he’s a true warrior and we knew he was going to come back,” Garino said.

Junior forward Kevin Larsen was held to just two points and zero rebounds in the first half, but turned it on in the second to finish the game with seven points and three boards.

“I thought Kevin started playing with a little more energy [in the second half],” Lonergan said. “He was much more of a presence inside, and when [George Mason] did collapse, he started kicking the ball out and we got some pretty good looks.”

Although GW had zero points from his bench in the first half, Watanabe would put up seven points in the second half while freshman guard Paul Jorgensen would add six. George Mason’s 13 total turnovers would also help the Colonials close out the game.

The Colonials head back on the road Thursday when they take on Fordham at 7 p.m.

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Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 9:24 p.m.

Preview: Men’s basketball at La Salle

What: Men’s basketball (12-3, 2-0 A-10) vs. La Salle (8-7, 0-2 A-10)
When: Saturday, Jan. 10 at 12:30 p.m.
Where: Tom Gola Arena, Philadelphia, Pa.

Just a week after a 64-60 road win over Saint Joseph’s, the Colonials return to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon to take on Atlantic 10 foe La Salle in their third conference game of the season.

GW will look to remain undefeated in A-10 play and extend a six-game win streak, which matches the longest for the team under head coach Mike Lonergan. The Colonials narrowly topped Saint Louis at home Tuesday night and must stay focused against a La Salle team that won 76-72 at home against GW last year.

After three consecutive non-conference wins, the Explorers dropped their first two conference games to George Mason and Massachusetts and currently sit at the bottom of the A-10 with three other 0-2 teams. The Colonials are the statistical favorite, but expect La Salle to play with passion as the team searches for its first A-10 victory on a court GW hasn’t won on since 2011.

The case for La Salle:
Sophomore guard Jordan Price ranks third in the A-10 in scoring, averaging an impressive 17.1 points per game, but has combined for only 14 points in the team’s first two conference games. If Price can find his game, the Colonials may have trouble defending the versatile shooter.

While the Colonials rebound as a team, averaging 38 per game, La Salle depends on seniors Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright, who are averaging a team-leading 8.5 and 7.3 rebounds per game respectively. If the big men perform and receive help from teammates on the boards, La Salle may have a shot at snapping GW’s win streak.

One of the few statistical categories in which the Explorers lead the Colonials is free-throw shooting. To pull off an upset, La Salle will need to play aggressively against a lockdown GW defense and get to the foul line.

The case for GW:
Despite dropping their first game against the Explorers last season, the Colonials responded with a dominant 69-47 win when the teams met again at the Smith Center on Jan. 29.

Juniors Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen are all scoring in double figures and will be able to best the Explorers’ defense if they remain composed.

Defensively, the Colonials also hold a clear edge. GW ranks 31st nationally in points allowed per game, 70th in blocks and 83rd in rebounds, while La Salle ranks 125th or worse in all three categories.

All signs point to GW in this early conference matchup, but expect La Salle to come out hungry and keep it close.

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Coach Lonergan calls for a foul as the game tightens up in the second half. The Colonials scored 43 points in the second half to overcome their 8 point halftime deficit and defeat the Billikens 75-72. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Head coach Mike Lonergan calls for a foul as the game tightens up in the second half. The Colonials scored 43 points in the second half to overcome their eight-point halftime deficit and defeat the Billikens 75-72. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

For a team that has beaten the Colonials in each of its last three tries, it wouldn’t seem like a lead would be surprising.

But the faces in the Smith Center midway through GW’s Atlantic 10 home opener against Saint Louis on Tuesday showed a mix of dismay and disbelief.

The Billikens came into the game on a two-game losing streak with an 8-6 record, rebuilding from the A-10 regular season championship squad that lost all five starters last season. But they were winning. Winning a strange first half where both teams were shooting near 60 percent, but winning.

They were winning, precisely, until Joe McDonald hit his second of a pair of free throws to tie the game at 49 with 12:19 to play. The Colonials hung on to win 75-72, beating Saint Louis to go to 2-0 in A-10 play and 12-3 overall. McDonald finished with 11 points and five rebounds as one of five Colonials to finish in double figures, led by Patricio Garino’s 18 points with six rebounds.

“We’re not a consistent team yet but we’re a good team, and hopefully we’ll learn that you have to play hard against everybody and that was a good game, a good win for us,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

Just five minutes before McDonald hit his shot, Saint Louis had led by 12.

GW’s defense was wearing Saint Louis down, goading the Billikens as they passed around trying to find a look until Milik Yarbrough, who finished with a game-high 26 points, had a rare miss on a desperate attempt as the buzzer sounded. The shot was too strong and clanged off the far rim.

Just after, the Colonials got the ball up to Kevin Larsen who was double teamed in the low post. Still, he muscled it up, but as he banked the ball of the glass, it rolled off the basket. Larsen picked it up off the floor and slammed it against his own forehead several times. He had gotten fouled, but only made one of the free throws.

Adding insult to injury, Saint Louis hit another one of 11 threes in the game on the next possession.

“We came out a little flat, myself included. I try to tell myself, ‘You’ve got to work harder in the second half. Lead by example and play your butt off,’” Larsen said.

But Larsen – who finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists – got another shot after McDonald miraculously saved GW’s next chance on offense, throwing his body for a falling rebound and hitting an easy bucket in the low post, the kind he’d been unable to establish earlier in the game. The Colonials managed just two offensive rebounds in the first half, but ended with a 17-6 edge in second-chance points with 10 offensive boards in the second half.

A couple plays after Larsen scored, Saint Louis missed the same kind of easy layup that just didn’t go in. Then Yuta Watanabe hit a three and GW was down by only two, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Watanabe also hit the go-ahead three pointer and finished with 10 points and three rebounds.

“He’s tremendous,” Garino said. “I think his energy is very, very necessary from the bench.”

Junior Patricio Garino nails a jumper towards the end of the first half. Garino had 18 points and 6 rebounds, leading the Colonials in both categories as they topped the Billikens 75-72 on Tuesday night in the Smith Center. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior Patricio Garino nails a jumper toward the end of the first half. Garino had 18 points and six rebounds, leading the Colonials in both categories as they topped the Billikens 75-72 on Tuesday night in the Smith Center. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Watanabe was the hero again at the last second when the Colonials got another scare after going back and forth with the Billikens, who tied the score twice late.

Saint Louis, down by three, got the ball back after an overthrown pass lost a possession for the Colonials. They hadn’t gotten a shot off with less than two seconds left in the game, but Larsen kicked the ball out of bounds and the Billikens got to reset. They managed a last-dash attempt for three, but Watanabe blocked it to seal the win.

The Colonials got just enough plays – eight steals, three from Garino, which helped the Colonials outscore the Billikens 19-7 off turnovers, an eventual 31-25 rebounding margin and a 34-24 edge in the paint, ending the game 23-34 from the free-throw line after starting 1-8 – to stop the Billikens, who shot nearly 55 percent in the game, and just enough for the Colonials to beat Saint Louis for the first time since 2011.

But Lonergan said he wasn’t thinking about previous wins or previous years, and that he’s expecting the Colonials, not the Billikens, to play the part of the A-10 elite.

“It’s time for us to beat everybody, hopefully, so I don’t look at it as we hadn’t beaten Saint Louis,” Lonergan said.

The Colonials go back on the road next, visiting La Salle on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff against the Explorers.

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This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

You could almost hear Allen Iverson say it, over and and over again, “Free throws?!”

As usual, they’ve been a topic of conversation about the Colonials, only more so after the team eked out a win against Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.

One game into conference play and GW already almost blew a 20-point lead, courtesy of the one and only: charity stripe chip shots. In the final four minutes, they went to the line 17 times. They made a little over half of them, eventually resulting in a four-point win.

But the numbers show that result to be an outlier: Statistically speaking, GW’s free-throw shooting, even down the stretch, has been the same or better than in years past. All the talk is not backed up by what has actually happened in games.

This year alone, GW has played in five games decided by 10 points or fewer. Last season, it was 19 games. The year prior, 17 games. From the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season, the Colonials won twice as many close games, an 111 percent increase. This year is the best yet, with the team winning at an 80 percent clip.

Granted, it wasn’t always juniors Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen who were taking the bulk of the team’s critical-moment free throws. Last year, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood shot 42 percent of free throws taken in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer. They made 73 percent of those freebies. The four juniors took 57 percent of those free throws, making 68 percent of them. Senior Nemanja Mikic took the only free throws not shot by a combination of those players.

In 2012-13, it was a mixed bag: Darian Smith, Bryan Bynes, Lasan Kromah and Armwood all were the major shooters, including others. Those four shot 57 percent of the critical free throws at a 65 percent clip. Meanwhile the then-freshman four were somewhat absent from the line: Larsen never stepped to the stripe in one of those moments and Savage missed his one attempt. McDonald was 11-18 and Garino was 7-13.

This year, the four juniors have shot all the team’s critical free throws aside from a few by Yuta Watanabe and Paul Jorgensen. The group is shooting 68.8 percent from the free throw line in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer, identical to their total season average.

The details that emerge show the players have been no worse in the clutch than they have at the beginnings of games or in blowouts. Rather, players have shot near their overall averages with the game on the line – mostly no different than in years prior.

At the line, Garino’s having his best statistical season yet. He’s shooting 71 percent on the season, compared to 59 percent and 65 percent in the respective seasons. In crunch time, he’s made 5-7, also 71 percent.

Larsen is a bit scattered: He is at a 65 percent clip on the season – consistent with his prior years, 63 and 67 percent. In crunch time, though, he’s only made 5-9, for a 56 percent clip – almost the same as last year’s season total of 6-11, 55 percent.

Savage is shooting a poorer percentage from the line in critical moments, but it’s not significant enough to draw conclusions of choking.

McDonald, however, has come through nearly every time. In the 36 other minutes during close games, he’s shooting 63 percent at the free throw line. Come crunch time, he’s shooting 5-6 for 83 percent. His one miss against Saint Joe’s on Saturday was his first of the season in that kind of situation.

That uptick with the game on the line is significantly different from McDonald’s numbers in the past. In McDonald’s sophomore year, he shot 70 percent from the free throw line for the season. In games decided by 10 points or fewer, he shot 71 percent. In the final four minutes of those games, he shot – again – 71 percent on 30-42 shooting. He’s improved from freshmen year, too, when he shot 65 percent on the season and 61 percent in crunch time.

GW is only shooting 66 percent from the free throw line as a team this year, though that number does put them in the top half of the Atlantic 10. The core four are shooting 69 percent. In the final four minutes of tight games, they’re shooting exactly the same, 69 percent. Yes, McDonald missed one of two of his free throws in the Saint Joe’s conference opener, but at that point, he was probably due for a miss.

The Colonials have won four of five of these tight games this year. So it’s tough to complain after a 2012-13 when they lost 11 of 17 of them. This year is even better so far, which is perhaps the best indicator that they’ve improved in late-game situations, not free throws (free throws?!).

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Junior Kethan Savage drives between defenders in GW's 64-60 win over Saint Joseph's. Savage led the team with 16 points and added six rebounds and four assists in the opening game of the Colonials' conference season. Desiree Halpern | Contributing Photo Editor.

Junior Kethan Savage drives between defenders in GW’s 64-60 win over Saint Joseph’s. Savage led the team with 16 points and added six rebounds and four assists in the opening game of the Colonials’ conference season. Desiree Halpern | Contributing Photo Editor.

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

The sold-out arena in North Philadelphia was rocking late in the second half with a sense of tradition in the air and last year’s Atlantic 10 championship banner hanging from the rafters.

Saint Joseph’s had cut the GW lead to three points. Eight minutes before, they were down 20.

It seemed like the Hawks might have claimed the lead had the game lasted another minute – an impressive performance from a team that lost over half of its offense from last year. Last season’s team gave national champion the Huskies the biggest test of their tournament run.

Down the stretch, in which the Hawks went on a 30-13 run to close out the game, GW hung on. The Colonials would make a free throw, miss a free throw, rinse and repeat. Saint Joe’s gained momentum, but in one final trip to the line, up three, junior point guard Joe McDonald made his first and missed his second. Patricio Garino grabbed the board, and GW clung on to win 64-60.

“None of us thought we were going to lose this game,” junior forward Kevin Larsen said, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. “We felt pretty confident through the whole game. We just stopped playing as hard as we did to get up by 20, and that’s something we have to correct.”

Saint Joe’s had frustrated the GW offense early in the second half. It wasn’t until freshman ball handler Paul Jorgensen subbed in that the team seemed to get rolling. First he found Larsen for a lay in from the post. Then on a defensive trap, he poked the ball lose, ran the fastbreak and yielded it to freshman forward Yuta Watanabe for the slam. The bench finished with 14 points, 12 of which came from Watanabe.

At that point, it was 44-26. The GW fans were cheering, with Athletic Director Patrick Nero sitting in the front of the section. Saint Joe’s called a timeout. GW would maintain a 20-point lead for another five minutes, until the eight-minute mark. That’s when it all came undone.

Saint Joe’s pressed in the full court, rattling the Colonials. GW’s defensive intensity died down. The Hawks were finding easier points as the Colonials couldn’t convert on offense.

“We let them back in by not communicating and executing,” Larsen said.

Head coach Mike Lonergan talked about “stupid mistakes” following the game, but said the score never would have gotten as close as it did if the Colonials had made their free throws down the stretch. GW went 14-24 from the charity stripe, a 58 percent clip.

To build that initial lead, the starting five displayed moments of brilliance in the first half.

Larsen was doubled in the post, and lone senior John Kopriva went to work, as he usually does at the start of a game. Then McDonald sent a crisp pass to Kethan Savage, who screeched to a stop in the corner in front of the Hawks bench and drained a three. He hit another a few possessions later from the other corner. Savage finished with three threes.

“I’m just confident,” Savage said, who finished with a team-high 16 points, adding six boards and four assists. “Our whole team is confident coming off of the Diamond Head Classic. We’re not taking anything for granted. It’s a completely new season. We’re 1 and 0, and that’s our mentality. We’re going to take everybody’s best shot.”

Savage’s swagger showed in his patience. In the first half, commanding the point, he showed no rush. When the Saint Joe’s faithful counted down the shot clock in front of him, he moseyed his way into the paint and laid it up and in just before the bell. In the second half, with the clock expiring and Lonergan yelling to shoot, Savage lifted leisurely, sinking another 3-pointer.

Tenacious man to man did the job, highlighted by a dominant rebounding margin on both the defensive and offensive sides. In the first half, GW out-rebounded Saint Joe’s 27-10, including 10-3 on the offensive glass. The Colonials outscored the Hawks 18-8 in the paint and 8-2 on second-chance points – on the way to holding their opponent to the second-least amount of points in the first half all season. They relinquished just a few more than they had to Grambling State.

Regardless of the second half unraveling, the Colonials came out with a win in their A-10 opener – a road win.

“This is the type of a game, to reach our goals, we need to win this game,” Lonergan said. “Like I said, hey, we’re up 20, we got a veteran team on the court and we just didn’t close out well, and I thought we would with the experience we had. Like I said, when you’re missing free throws, it unfortunately affects our defense and concentration. We got to get a little bit more mentally tough and close teams out.”

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Junior Joe McDonald drives between two Colorado defenders during GW's 53-50 win in the Semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic. The Colonials won the tournament, knocking off then-No. 11 Wichita State and then beat VMI at home to gather momentum heading into conference play. Nora Princiotti | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Junior Joe McDonald drives between two Colorado defenders during GW’s 53-50 win in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic. The Colonials won the tournament, knocking off then-No. 11 Wichita State and then beat VMI at home to gather momentum heading into conference play. Nora Princiotti | Hatchet Staff Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

What: Men’s basketball (10-3, 0-0) vs. Saint Joseph’s (6-5, 0-0)
Where: Michael J. Hagan ’85 Arena, Philadelphia, CBSSN
When: Saturday, Jan. 3 at 2 p.m.

Atlantic 10 play has arrived.

The Colonials did what they could to build a proper resume in non-conference play, highlighted by a big showing in Hawaii. Now GW will set out to prove a No. 2 preseason ranking was no mistake.

VCU, Dayton, Davidson and Rhode Island look poised to prove themselves as the elites of a conference that some are saying may only receive one or two bids to the NCAA tournament, a year after it was granted six.

Before GW faces any of the aforementioned powerhouses, the team will kick off A-10 play on the road, at Saint Joseph’s, looking to start off the new year and conference play with a bang.

The case for Saint Joseph’s:
When the Hawks defeated Temple earlier this season, they did it at the free-throw line. Saint Joe’s sank 16 of 21 to knock off a team that later went onto beat No. 10 Kansas and Connecticut, on the road. If they can live at the line, they have a chance to survive against the Colonials at home.

Some key scorers could also dictate the game for Saint Joe’s.

Then a freshman, DeAndre Bembry scored a team-high 22 points, plus eight assists and five rebounds last season against GW. The 6-foot-6, 210 pound forward is the leading scorer for the Hawks this season, averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Bembry has also been to the free-throw line a team-high 51 times, though he’s only made 32 (62 percent) of those freebies. Watch out for Bembry to build on last year’s performance against the Colonials.

A key role player could be the 6-foot-5 junior Aaron Brown, a guard who comes off the bench, averaging 9.5 points a game.

The bigger worry for the Colonials is likely the second leading scorer on the Hawks, junior Isaiah Miles. He has a team-high in 3-point attempts and is shooting threes at a 33 percent clip, the best on the team. Though not a high rate, if the 6-foot-7 stretch forward gets hot, the Colonials will have to continue their strong defense beyond the arc.

The case for GW:
Last year, GW defeated the Hawks 76-71 in the Colonials’ home finale. The Smith Center was packed, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood were pumped and GW was battling for positioning in the A-10 championship.

Then-sophomores Kevin Larsen, Joe McDonald and Patricio Garino had strong games: Larsen posted five points, six rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. McDonald had 18 points, six rebounds and four turnovers. Garino added 17 points off the bench in 34 minutes of action.

For the Colonials to win this year, their big four – now including the healthy Kethan Savage – will need to have solid games. Heading into conference play with some extra swagger shouldn’t hurt.

Undefeated Villanova picked Saint Joe’s apart for a 74-56 win, allowing the Hawks to make just one 3-point attempt, while nailing nine of their own. The Wildcats also knocked in 47 percent of their shots from the field. Extended defense and wise offensive shot selection could be all the Colonials need to notch their first conference win of the season.

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