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Freshman Yuta Watanabe charges into the paint at the John Paul Jones Center in Charlottesville, Va on Friday. The Colonials were dealt their first loss of the season by the Cavaliers, losing 59-42. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Freshman Yuta Watanabe charges into the paint at the John Paul Jones Center in Charlottesville, Va. on Friday. The Cavaliers dealt the Colonials their first loss of the season. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

It happened over and over again.

On nearly every GW possession, the crowd cheers grew from a rumble to a roar as the shot clock wound down and the Colonials dribbled around Virginia’s packline defense, unable to penetrate, and turned the ball over or had to settle for a contested jumper.

GW gave the No. 9-ranked Cavaliers a scare at halftime, but as the grind-it-out game went on, the Colonials could not find the basket, taking their first loss of the season 59-42 on the road Friday night.

Head coach Mike Lonergan summed it up simply: “No moral victories. We wanted to play much better. It’s a 40-minute game,” he said.

“It definitely seemed like a whole different team in the second half,” junior point guard Joe McDonald said. “We didn’t respond well to that.”

The Cavaliers, who ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage defense entering the game, saw the Colonials shoot nearly 46 percent in the first half. But in the second half, the 26-22 halftime lead faded away as Virginia’s shooting heated up and GW’s cooled off. The game ended with the Cavaliers shooting over 42 percent from the field, while GW shot under 33 percent in the game.

The packline defense was so airtight at times that it was difficult to imagine how the scuffmarks on the painted area ever got there.

“It kind of wears you down. Shots that you would normally look for and get against other teams, they’re not there,” said junior guard Kethan Savage, who lead GW with 13 points. “They take you out of your stuff and that presented some problems for us.”

In the second half, Virginia started to feed off the paint where they outscored the Colonials 42-24. Though GW out-rebounded the Cavaliers 17-16 in the first half, the game ended with Virginia owning the rebounding edge 41-28.

Every missed shot seemed to turn into an offensive rebound, with GW losing in second-chance points 18-8, and Lonergan described senior forward Darion Atkins as “playing volleyball on the backboards.”

Meanwhile, the Colonials shot just 20 percent in the second half.

“Anything in the paint that seemed to fall in the first half wasn’t in the second half. Their hands are active. It’s definitely an eye opener for us,” McDonald said.

If the paint was tough to get to for GW, the free throw line was tougher. The Colonials took just nine shots from the charity stripe, making six of them. Virginia was 10-16.

Kevin Larsen, normally a stat sheet filler for GW, was 1-3 from the field for two points with just three rebounds.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett echoed advice he said his father once gave him: “You should never let a good big man beat you,” Bennett said. He said his team went after Larsen, trying to trap him and drive at him when he did get catches.

“They doubled him and he’s the best passing big man I’ve ever had. I was actually hoping they’d double him. Usually he picks that apart,” Lonergan said. “Those turnovers and things, I think that affected him on the glass.”

While Larsen struggled, his former teammate at Montrose Christian, Justin Anderson, did it all for the Cavaliers. His eight points were double that of Virginia’s next best scorer at the half, and he was the only player shooting above 50 percent going into halftime 4-7. He was yet again Virginia’s top scorer in the game, ending the game with 18 points.

On one play, Anderson dunked in the ball coming down after it caromed off the basket after a missed three by Nolte to make it 40-34 Virginia and bring a sea of orange and blue to its feet.

Yuta Watanabe continued to impress for GW, hitting a pair of threes on his way to a 10-point, five-rebound night. The freshman showed off his defense on a steal in the first half, managing to use his long arms without fouling.

The two teams had not played each other since 2004, when the Cavaliers beat the Colonials in the first round of the NIT, which was also played in Charlottesville.

But they had seen each other more recently. The last time GW and Virginia were in the same building was last March, in Raleigh, N.C., when the Cavaliers played their first game on a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament while the Colonials tasted defeat in their only game in the Big Dance.

Having once again taken the loss, GW will turn to prepare for a Wednesday night matchup against Longwood at home at 7 p.m.

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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 12:41 p.m.

Preview: Men’s basketball vs. No. 9 Virginia

Junior Joe McDonald drives to the net in GW's win over Rutgers on Sunday. The Colonials will take on No. 9 Virginia on Friday and would generate serious top-25 buzz if they took down the Cavaliers. File Photo by Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Junior Joe McDonald drives to the net in GW’s win over Rutgers on Sunday. The Colonials will take on No. 9 Virginia on Friday and would generate serious top-25 buzz if they took down the Cavaliers. File Photo by Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

What: Men’s basketball vs. No. 9 Virginia

Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va., ESPN3/WatchESPN

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Just two games into the regular season, the Colonials will get perhaps their toughest test of the entire year, facing No. 9 Virginia on the road in the opening game of a home-and-home agreement announced last April.

The Cavaliers have started the regular season 3-0, coming off a season in which they won both the ACC regular season and championship en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. The Colonials have likewise yet to suffer their first loss of the season, entering the game with a 2-0 record.

For both teams, the game will be the first true challenge, though Virginia is still the clear favorite. A win for GW would likely generate serious top-25 buzz for the team and, either way, questions will be answered about both squads Friday.

The Colonial Army is taking advantage of the area rivalry and is bussing GW fans to the game. Several players will also see familiar faces on the court: Junior swingman Justin Anderson played with Kevin Larsen at Montrose Christian School, and senior forward Darion Atkins was a teammate of Joe McDonald’s at the Landon School.

The case for Virginia:
Virginia is off to its best start in six years under head coach Tony Bennett and have posted an average margin of victory of 25.3 points in three games.

The weak spot for Virginia so far has been in guarding players from long range. In each of the team’s three wins, one opposing player got hot from downtown. But against GW, which head coach Mike Lonergan has said is not a strong three-point-shooting team, Virginia may catch a long-range break – unless Nick Griffin gets a streak going at exactly the right time.

Depth is also in the home team’s favor. Despite a packed schedule at the start of the season, the Cavaliers should be well rested as no player in the team’s deep lineup saw more than 25 minutes of playing time on Tuesday in a win against South Carolina State.

Virginia has the ability to choose between junior center Mike Tobey and Atkins to start alongside Anderson, redshirt junior forward Anthony Gill, redshirt junior guard Malcom Brogdon and sophomore point guard London Perrantes, depending on matchups.

The Colonials, meanwhile, will have to shorten their bench to keep pace with a top opponent. Yuta Watanabe and Nick Griffin look like reliable options to soak up some minutes early, and Darian Bryant looks not too far off, but the GW bench may run just eight deep Friday.

The case for GW:
While the Colonials will have had nearly a week of rest since playing Rutgers last Sunday, the Cavs will have had just three days and will be suiting up for the fourth time in eight days.

After shedding 15 pounds during the offseason, a trimmer Anderson has been a leading scorer in each of the Cavaliers’ first three games. The junior swingman will test Patricio Garino, but GW should feel confident in Garino’s stellar defense matching up against Anderson who, like Garino, is a threat above the rim.

McDonald and Perrantes also match up well at the one. Perrantes is skilled but has not been the scorer McDonald has been, averaging 5.5 points per game last season and averaging five points and 1.5 rebounds in two games this year. McDonald is averaging 11.5 points per game thus far.

GW’s ability to rebound and augment rebounding numbers from the guard slots could also help prevent Virginia’s physical game inside from getting the Cavaliers on a roll. The Colonials are averaging 47 rebounds per game through two games, while Virginia is averaging 41.7.

The Colonials enter the game with zero room for error, but if the shots fall against Virginia’s strong defense, keeping up with the Cavs would be something to remember come March.

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Much of the talk surrounding men’s basketball has been about how the team will try to replicate the success of last season, but in the season-opening win over Grambling State on Friday, the team showed that this year, they will do things a bit differently.

Last season, it took a foot injury to Kethan Savage to move Patricio Garino into the starting lineup. On Friday, the Atlantic-10 Preseason First Teamer led GW with a game-high 21 points in just 24 minutes of play, four points shy of his career record.

He dominated above the rim, went 3-3 from the free throw line, and also sunk two three-pointers on the night, a number only matched by sophomore Nick Griffin

“I felt confident the whole game,” Garino said. “I think at the beginning, I should have shot a couple of shots where I was open, but I think my feet were ready and I was in the right positions.”

Savage, too, showed expansion of his game, hitting a pair of smooth jumpers after getting the game started with a two-handed slam on a pass from Garino. Savage and Lonergan both spoke about his improved jump shot before the season, and the explosive shooting guard put it on display Friday night, perhaps making memories of last year’s departed leading scorer Maurice Creek fade away ever so slightly.

Garino and Savage also dominated on the other side of the court, with Garino leading the team with four steals and the two players sharing the team lead in blocks with senior John Kopriva.

Garino has always been a slasher and Kopriva a strong defender, but even when their play was not anything new or surprising, Garino said the home crowd on opening night gave the team energy.

“It feels great for us… just the atmosphere of the students hypes everyone up and gives us a little extra confidence in the game,” Garino said.

The building was set particularly abuzz with one of the least familiar sights of the game when Kevin Larsen splashed in the first three-pointer of his career from just outside the top of the arc, though Larsen made sure to say after the game that fans should not expect him to be launching shots from long range on a regular basis.

“It was the first three I’ve made and it felt great, but I’ve got to find other ways to score points like getting down one-on-one in the post,” Larsen said. “But Joe made a great pass and I was like ‘Oh, well,’ so I shot it and it went in.”

Larsen was otherwise himself: He commanded the paint and tallied a team-leading nine rebounds and was the second-highest scorer in the game with 15 points, all in just 26 minutes of playing time.

Larsen also guided the team to 49 total rebounds to Grambling State’s 24. He said rebounding was an area of concern coming into the season, but was pleased to see almost everyone contributing to the statistic.

The Colonials also focused greatly on free throw shooting this offseason, after losing their best shooter in Creek and finishing with a dismal 65.2 percent from the line last year.

Although the Colonials finished 66.7 percent from the line as a team Friday, the two top scorers showed improvement, with Garino going 3-3 and Larsen 6-6.

Despite facing an opponent far less formidable than most teams the Colonials will encounter this season, the performances of the starters bode well for GW. If this year’s squad can continue to score in different ways, breaking last year’s mold could actually prove to be a good thing.

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Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 11:38 p.m.

Preview: GW men’s basketball vs. Rutgers

What: Men’s basketball vs. Rutgers
Where: Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
When: Sunday at 7 p.m.

The Colonials will head to Rutgers on Sunday for their first road game, just 48 hours after their dominant 92-40 victory over Grambling State to begin the season.

This will be the third meeting between the two teams in three years. Last season, GW took down the Scarlet Knights 93-87 at the Smith Center on Dec. 4 to get their seventh win of the 2013-14 season.

The matchup will be the Colonials’ first real test, as they take on their first power conference team this season, while Rutgers will attempt to get its first win of the year in its season opener.

The case for Rutgers:
The Scarlet Knights will be hungry to put a disappointing 2013-14 campaign behind them. Rutgers went 12-21 overall and 5-13 in their final year in the AAC to finish seventh in the conference, losing to Louisville in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

Rutgers will look to attack the Colonials with the offensive duo of guard Myles Mack and forward Kadeem Jack, who averaged 14.9 and 14.3 points per game last season, respectively. Jack will, however, be a game time decision due to a lingering thumb injury, according to NJ.com.

Promising newcomers like former Miami guard Bishop Daniels and forward D.J. Foreman will also play big roles for the Knights this season, and may be difference makers against a GW offense that will play freshmen off the bench who have yet to be tested on the road.

The case for GW:
The game will be even more winnable for the visiting Colonials if Jack, arguably the Scarlet Knights’ best player, can’t suit up.

In limited minutes Friday, juniors Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen demonstrated just how commanding their offense could be, combining for 36 points and 12 rebounds in the victory. The junior core four will also play a substantial amount of minutes for the first time this season, and will most likely overpower their Big Ten opponent.

GW may also have an edge defensively, as the Colonials totaled 235 steals to Rutgers’ 190 last year, and averaged 37 rebounds per game to Rutgers’ 35.

The Colonials continue a road stretch next week, heading to Charlottesville, Va. to take on Virginia on Friday.

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After the Colonials rolled to their first victory over Grambling State, head coach Mike Lonergan and juniors Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen answered questions from the press.

Lonergan talked about the play of his freshmen and expectations for the rest of the season.

GW will next play against Rutgers on Sunday.

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Updated: Nov. 14, 2014 at 10:47 p.m.

No sooner had a new banner, this one with “2014″ emblazoned under previous NCAA tournament years, been hung from the Smith Center rafters than Patricio Garino was feeding Kethan Savage for a slam dunk in the season opener Friday.

Those were GW’s first official points of the 2014-15 season in the beginning of what would be a 92-40 win over Grambling State, marking the Colonials’ largest margin of victory since 1999.

Just under 20 minutes of game time later, when Tigers guard Chase Cormier missed his second free throw, Garino secured a 16-15 edge in scoring over the Tigers’ entire offense in the first half. GW went on to trounce the Tigers, outscoring them 50-18 in the paint, 22-4 off the fastbreak and 24-1 in points off of turnovers.

“I thought we came out ready to play, and I think our upperclassmen and our juniors in particular were very focused no matter who their opponent is,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “It was a good game for us, for our freshmen especially, they don’t have to go into Rutgers Sunday as their first game playing major minutes.”

Garino was unstoppable, laying and dunking balls in off the fastbreak and making two three pointers on three attempts. Sixteen of his points came in the first half before he saw limited minutes in the second half of the blowout.

Lonergan put all five freshman in around the four-minute mark and let them play out the remainder of the game. For the record, they outscored the Tigers 9-4, with Paul Jorgensen making an aggressive swipe and several layups off the break and Yuta Watanabe hitting a three.

Darian Bryant held the ball as the crowd stood and the clock wound down to zero with GW’s future on the court. But make no mistake, the present did the winning for the Colonials against the Tigers.

“Darian plays well, he finds a way to get some baskets. Yuta I think had one of his best games,” Lonergan said. “They’re getting used to playing with each other as well.”

Lonergan nearly secured his goal of having four players score in double figures, as Savage added 12 to Garino’s game-leading 21, while Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald chipped in 15 and 8, respectively. Larsen led the game in rebounding with nine, and GW would beat Grambling State off the glass 49-24.

Junior guard Kethan Savage played 24 minutes in GW's season opener against Grambling State on Friday, seeing his first competitive action after fracturing his foot last January. Savage tallied 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists as the Colonials breezed past the Tigers 92-40. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior guard Kethan Savage played 24 minutes in GW’s season opener against Grambling State on Friday, seeing his first competitive action after fracturing his foot last January. Savage tallied 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists as the Colonials breezed past the Tigers 92-40. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

“[Rebounding] was a big focus because we had a size advantage again like last week,” Larsen said. “So it was like one of the priorities going into the game, dominating on the glass, which has been a big question mark for the whole summer since [Isaiah Armwood] left. So it was a great feeling to show that we can all rebound.”

Though Larsen spent most of his minutes inside, he hit a three pointer after Grambling State missed a free throw with seven minutes to go in the first half, which made it seem unclear if the Tigers would reach double digits in the first frame. GW George walked through the aisles of the Smith Center’s stands with unusual confidence.

While GW got scoring from many places, the Tigers had just two players in double figures. Those players, forwards A’Torri Shine and Richard Freeman, were the only two players to score more than four points with Shine’s 11 and Freeman’s 13.

One of the few dark spots for GW was the team’s fifth starter, forward John Kopriva, who was held without a field goal and scored just one point off four free throw attempts, though Lonergan praised his defense in the game. Kopriva also added three rebounds.

“He’s gotta make his free throws, it’s just a mental thing,” Lonergan said. “He didn’t really have many other opportunities.”

Guard Nick Griffin suited up for GW after missing the Colonials’ exhibition win over Bloomsburg the week before with a minor injury, which Lonergan said at the team’s media day was to his foot.

He was silent in the first half but scored eight points in the second frame, including two of GW’s six three pointers.

Griffin ended the game tied with Watanabe and Jorgensen for the most points off the GW bench, which outscored Grambling State’s supporting cast 35-11.

Lonergan cautioned that the rookies will have to get used to fewer minutes, starting with the team’s first official road game at Rutgers on Sunday at 7 p.m.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the number of points scored by Richard Freeman. He scored 13 points, not 14. We regret this error.

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What: Men’s basketball vs. Grambling State

Where: Smith Center

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Junior Kevin Larsen sets up for a shot against Bloomsburg last week. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Kevin Larsen sets up for a shot against Bloomsburg last week. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

GW will get another chance to topple a weak team when the Grambling State Tigers come to the Smith Center on Friday.

The trick for GW will be to win by a significant enough margin to dispel any RPI concerns, as they take on one of the NCAA’s worst Division I teams. The Colonials beat up on Division II exhibition opponent Bloomsburg last week, and they will head on the road for the first time this season after their game against Grambling State.

Freshmen could see extended playing time as the Colonials are expected to hold the advantage in all areas of the game.

The case for Grambling State:
Grambling State took a step forward last season relative to the team’s 2012-13 season, in which the Tigers were one of eight Division I teams in history to finish a season winless. They will look to take another step forward this season.

The Colonials biggest task will be to contain senior guard/forward A’Torri Shine, who averaged 13.8 points per game last year and was named to the All-Southwestern Athletic Conference Preseason second team.

The Tigers made more than six three pointers per game, a weak spot for the Colonials this year, and could use Shine or 6-foot-4 guard Remond Brown to shoot around and over guards from beyond the arc.

The case for GW:
Out of the 351 NCAA Division I teams ranked by ESPN.com, the Tigers ranked 297th in scoring, 321st in rebounding, 325th in assists and 343rd in points allowed per game last season on the way to a 5-24 finish at the bottom of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

GW showed last week in exhibition play that it can feast on weaker opponents in the paint and should do so again against a team that was out-rebounded by 4.5 rebounds per game last year. Look for Kevin Larsen to overpower the Tigers inside and for John Kopriva to continue finding the basket.

GW’s defense should be a cut above: Grambling State totaled just 60 blocks as a team to the Colonials’ 135, and 177 steals to GW’s 235 last year, so possession should be in the home team’s favor.

The Colonials will have a quick turnaround after the game, taking on Rutgers on the road Sunday night.

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Junior guard Kethan Savage rocked the Smith Center with a dunk in the opening seconds of play Saturday, marking the start of an 89-47 trouncing of Bloomsburg (Division II) in GW’s only preseason exhibition match.

Despite committing 21 turnovers, the Colonials shot 66 percent from the field compared to the Huskies’ 24.2 and out rebounded Bloomsburg 51-27 en route to the 42-point victory.

“I thought we got a lot out of the game [and] did some good things. It was definitely sloppy, we had 21 turnovers, but I thought we were ready to play,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We played a lot of guys and it definitely added to why it was sloppy, but I’m happy because no one got hurt and we got to get our freshmen a lot of minutes.”

Junior guard Patricio Garino led the Colonials with a team-high 16 points, followed by junior forward Kevin Larsen and freshman guard Darian Bryant who each totaled 13 points on the day.

Larsen led the way with 11 points in the first half, in which the Colonials shot 62.5 percent from the field and outscored Bloomsburg 46-22.

The second frame was nearly identical, with GW outscoring the Huskies 43-25 and shooting 71.4 percent from the field.

Freshman forward Yuta Watanabe makes his first basket in the Smith Center in an exhibition match against Bloomsburg on Saturday afternoon. Watanabe totalled 8 rebounds and 12 points in his debut for the Colonials. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Freshman forward Yuta Watanabe makes his first basket in the Smith Center in an exhibition match against Bloomsburg on Saturday. Watanabe totalled eight rebounds and 12 points in his debut for the Colonials. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

The team’s five freshmen came out strong, contributing a combined total of 37 points, led by Bryant and freshmen Yuta Watanabe, who totaled 12 points and led the team defensively with three blocks.

“I think individually [the freshmen] did some good things. I thought Yuta played very very well… he’s got long arms and he’s a very good defender,” Lonergan said. “He’s really talented. I think as these guys get used to playing with Yuta and he gets used to playing with them, he’s going to be a lot better a few months down the road.”

Senior forward John Kopriva led the first half with six total rebounds, also scoring a total of 11 points, which he will need to continue to do for the Colonials to find success this season. Kopriva also showed off a jumper he and Lonergan said was improved and shot 5-6 from the field.

Kopriva was able to find space when Larsen drew the majority of attention in the post. Freshman Matt Cimino, however, was the team’s leading rebounder, battling his way through the paint for 10 rebounds, including four off the offensive boards.

Free throws, an area of concern for the Colonials last season, did not see much improvement Saturday, as GW only shot 60.7 percent from the line. Lonergan attributed some of the misses to early season jitters, but said that accuracy at the line is still a work in progress for his squad.

“I think some of our freshmen were nervous and missing some free throws there, but I think we’ve improved at least in practice and the drills we’re doing… but today, definitely it’s a disappointing number, especially being at home,” Lonergan said.

Junior guard Patricio Garino goes up to net in an exhibition match against Bloomburg on Saturday afternoon. Garino scored 16 points as the Colonials topped the Huskies 89-47. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Junior guard Patricio Garino goes up to net in an exhibition match against Bloomburg on Saturday. Garino scored 16 points as the Colonials topped the Huskies 89-47. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Overall, players said the rout left them feeling positive going into the regular season after waiting to get back on the court together in competition.

“It feels good honestly to play the whole team at the same time in one game,” Garino said. “I can’t wait honestly. I think we have a great team and now all the freshman have a little feeling about the game, and now I think they’re going to be a little less nervous.”

Still, not everyone got in on the fun: Junior Ryan McCoy and sophomore Nick Griffin did not dress for the game due to minor injuries, though Lonergan said both would be evaluated and could practice this week. He said they could possibly play in the season opener against Grambling State, but that it would depend on their availability for practice and if they could get enough time to tune up before getting into a game.

With or without them, the Colonials will try to carry over their dominance and work out some of the kinks and turnovers before getting back on the court when it counts. They will play their first regular season game against Grambling State next Friday at 7 p.m. in the Smith Center.

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Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald celebrate in GW's win in the A-10 quarterfinals | Hatchet File Photo

Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald celebrate during GW’s win in the A-10 quarterfinals last season. Hatchet File Photo

This post was written by contributing editor Mark Eisenhauer.

It’s prediction time for men’s basketball.

Sports Illustrated was the latest to release its annual preseason predictions, projecting the men’s basketball team to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 conference behind Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton and Massachusetts.

The Colonials will finish the season with a conference record of 11-7, according to the predictions, which were released Wednesday.

Using a statistical projection system, Sports Illustrated also predicted that juniors Kethan Savage, Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald would lead the team in scoring, in that order. Savage’s projected 14.2 points per game places him at No. 72 in the nation.

Garino, who averaged 12.1 points per game last year, is projected to improve his average to 12.3. Larsen is projected to score 11.5, just 0.1 points better than his average last season. Following an offseason hip surgery, McDonald is expected to average 8.7 points and four assists per game.

The Colonials’ top scorers would be rounded out by sophomore Nick Griffin, projected to score 6.9 points per game, followed by freshmen Yuta Watanabe and Matt Cimino with 5.5 and 5.3 points, respectively.

Sports Illustrated’s projections follow a slew of other preseason lists released in recent months, and many favorably rank the Colonials for the upcoming season.

Matt Norlander of CBS Sports sees GW finishing third in the conference. In his conference preview, Norlander also projected Savage to be a top A-10 guard, placing him on the preseason All-Atlantic 10 Team.

Five other CBS Sports college hoops experts also weighed in with their projected A-10 conference rankings. Chip Patterson, Jerry Palm and Jon Rothstein each have the Colonials finishing second over Dayton and behind VCU, while Gary Parrish has GW finishing third and Doug Gottlieb slates GW to finish fifth.

Beyond the A-10 rankings and regular season standings, USA Today Sports’ Scott Gleeson placed the Colonials in the NCAA tournament field of 68, projecting them to repeat last season with an at-large bid as a No. 9 seed. Gleeson ranked GW as the No. 35 team, and also predicted Savage will be the Colonials player to watch.

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What was conceived last year slammed into the Smith Center with a bang Friday night.

It was men’s basketball junior Patricio Garino’s winning bucket in the Colonials Invasion dunk competition, the finale of the event that introduced the men’s and women’s basketball teams to GW fans and built excitement for the upcoming season.

Garino got the idea for his dunk – which he caught off a lob from teammate Kevin Larsen up in the Smith Center balcony – last year, but he was sidelined from the competition with an injury. Now, Garino said the team is not focusing on the past.

“Last year means nothing. This year, we’re going for more,” Garino said to fans before executing his dunk, which earned a perfect score.

After two successful seasons for the men and women last year, the stands packed with students and parents surged with anticipation, and higher expectations, for what’s next.

Both men’s head coach Mike Lonergan and women’s head coach Jonathan Tsipis called on the crowd to come out to games and give GW a strong home-court advantage at the Smith Center. Tsipis told the crowd to make it not just the toughest place to play in the A-10, but in the nation.

“The crowds were really good, especially at the end of the season, and we’re hoping it carries over,” Lonergan said. “Tonight’s kind of a good start. I know it got me fired up because it really means the season’s quickly approaching.”

The evening was an opportunity for the fans to meet some of the characters of the new season: the 12 new additions to men’s and women’s basketball.

Freshmen Darian Bryant and Yuta Watanabe were featured in the dunk contest, and all new roster members made their debuts in front of the crowds after introductions from their families and friends were projected on the Smith Center’s jumbotron.

Still, fans should hope that Bryant and Watanabe got their growing pains out at Colonials Invasion and before the season begins. There were more misses than makes in their portions of the dunk contest, and though Bryant’s alleyoop after twizzling his body around under the basket earned creativity points from the judges, he and Watanabe could not escape some playful ribbing from their coach.

“Yuta was working on them earlier but he kept missing,” Lonergan said. “I’m glad that Pato saved the day because the dunk contest was a little shaky early.”

The event also featured artistic performances throughout the night. Student athletes from men’s and women’s soccer, men’s water polo and swimming and diving made appearances as announcers for groups like Bhangra, the Voice Gospel Choir and Capital Funk. Gymnastics started off the evening, flipping and twisting along a springboard on the arena floor.

But after the dancers had left the stage, after the lights came back on and the hazy puffs of the fog machine had settled, both basketball teams stayed on the court as the crowd trailed out, letting it sink in that their show has yet to begin.

“We got a lot of good publicity. It gave us some momentum and got our program back on the map,” Lonergan said. “But what that means is we’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to give everybody their best shot, we can’t surprise anybody anymore.”

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