This post was written by contributing sports editor Sean Hurd.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup against George Mason, head coach Mike Lonergan has had to repeatedly answer one question: How will his team move on without breakout guard Kethan Savage?
“No one on our team will do what Kethan did,” Lonergan said.
Not sophomore forward Patricio Garino, who will likely take the place of the injured Savage in the starting lineup. Not senior guard Nemanja Mikic. Not freshman guards Nick Griffin or Miguel Cartagena.
At least not single handedly.
Without sophomore Kethan Savage, GW will need multiple players to step up the rest of the season. Hatchet File Photo
Savage was the team’s biggest driving presence, Lonergan admitted, and the only player who could consistently get to the rim. The emphasis this week, though, has been that while one player may not be able to come in and fill the large gap left by Savage, they will learn to adjust as a team and find other ways to make up for Savage’s production.
“We don’t need one specific person to do everything that Kethan did because you can’t do that. Kethan is a special player,” sophomore point guard Joe McDonald said.
GW will get the chance to experiment and shake out the kinks against a struggling Patriots team that is still without a conference win. They enter Saturday’s matchup with a 7-12 record, although seven of their losses have come by six or less points.
To secure what seems like an easy win, Lonergan will need to highlight the rest of his team’s skillsets: a solidified frontcourt, good outside shooting and flexible defense.
“We’re going to have to become a better outside shooting team. We’re going to have to do a better job of getting the ball inside, or maybe we’ll have to play more 1-3-1 because we are going to have to guard against foul trouble more than ever,” Lonergan said. “So hey does it change us, it definitely does, but you can’t spend a lot of your energy worrying about it now.”
The Colonials will look to establish that inside game early against the Patriots, but in the way of the GW frontcourt will be a pair of 6-foot-8 big men: Johnny Williams and Erik Copes. Sophomore Kevin Larsen and senior Isaiah Armwood should be able to control the rebound game, though, as the Patriots only average 34.3 rebounds per game, ranking second to last in the conference.
On offense, GW will face a Patriots defense that allows 70 points per game to opponents at 44.6 percent shooting. Creek and Armwood, Lonergan said, will be looked to to steer GW forward, but someone like Mikic will be called on for increased production as well. Mikic was a solid contributor for the Colonials in the absence of Garino, averaging 9.8 points, but he has visibly regressed since, unable to find his touch until last Saturday against St. Bonaventure.
“Nemanja is a guy we’re going to have to get more out of, that’s for sure,” Lonergan said. “He’ll get more minutes, he’s definitely capable and coming off a pretty good game at St. Bonnies so he should be confident. Like I said, he’s a totally different player than Kethan, but we’re going to have to get him some shots and play to his strengths.”
The Patriots, on the other hand, are led by senior duo Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen, each averaging 14 points per game for head coach Paul Hewitt. GW will have to be careful with their pressure on GMU – who turns the ball over 14.6 times per game – as without Savage, the Colonials bench is even shorter than it already was. Early foul trouble would be an immediate red flag.
“They’re a very experienced team,” Lonergan said. “A lot of these guys are still there from coach Larrañaga, I think the senior class, so the expectations are really high for this group. We expect them to have a sold out crowd, have a great atmosphere, and we’re going to have to play really well.”
Fortunately, GW has already been in this type of situation once before this season. In late October, Garino was kept off the floor for multiple weeks with an injured index finger. During that time, GW lost just one game, with Creek and Savage picking up much of the clack.
“Not much is going to change at all,” Armwood said. “If you look at it, we missed Patricio at the beginning of the season, and we did well without him. Patricio is a starter so he’s going to insert his self into the starting lineup and fill Kethan’s role, but everybody’s got to step up individually a little bit more.”
GW and George Mason will face off Saturday at 12 p.m. at the Patriot Center.