Your Guide to GW sports


Kevin Larsen

Freshman Yuta Watanabe releases a shot in a game against DePaul in December. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Freshman Yuta Watanabe releases a shot in a game against DePaul in December. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Men’s basketball freshman Yuta Watanabe has been invited to greet Shinzō Abe, the prime minister of Japan, at the White House next Tuesday, the athletic department announced Wednesday.

Watanabe was invited by the White House Office of Public Engagement to attend Prime Minister Abe’s offical arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn. Watanabe will also attend a private luncheon at the State Department hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Watanabe is the fourth-ever Japanese born basketball player to play at the NCAA Division I level, and started 10 games for the Colonials this season. He will be joined by GW head coach Mike Lonergan and fellow international student athlete Kevin Larsen, who is from Denmark.

Watanabe’s rookie year was followed closely in his hometown of Kagawa, and around Japan where The Japan Times nicknamed him the country’s “Chosen One”. Watanabe has suited up for the Japanese National Team in the past and both his parents have played professional basketball there.

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Senior John Kopriva struggles for the ball between two Temple defenders. Kopriva played his final game for the men's basketball team Sunday as No. 5 seed GW fell to No. 1 seed Temple in the second round of the NIT. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Senior John Kopriva struggles for the ball between two Temple defenders. Kopriva played his final game for the men’s basketball team Sunday as No. 5 seed GW fell to No. 1 seed Temple in the second round of the NIT. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

PHILADELPHIA – They teased, they beckoned and they hinted at a comeback. But it’s over.

Men’s basketball’s season ended Sunday in a 90-77 loss to Temple in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The Colonials finished the season 22-13 overall and 1-1 as a No. 5 seed in the tournament on the No. 1 seed Owls’ home court.

“I’m disappointed because today was like our season,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Kethan really played well offensively today. Kevin played pretty well, and then a couple other guys had really rough games, so consistency has been the thing. We’ve lacked consistency in our season.”

At first, it looked like they would go easily. Temple (25-10, 2-0 NIT) shot out to a 9-0 lead and was quickly ahead by 15 at 20-5. Jesse Morgan, who finished the game 7-12 with 20 points, was outpacing the entire GW offense when Temple made it 22-9.

The Colonials started to chip away. GW cut the lead to eight after a 5-0 run with a three from Joe McDonald followed by a strong move to the basket for Kethan Savage, who finished the game with 25 points followed by Kevin Larsen’s 19.

“I’m definitely disappointed,” Savage said. “I was really excited coming into the game because I thought definitely everybody was ready to play.”

GW also forced a pair of rare turnovers in the stretch from the Owls, who rank ninth in Division I for the least giveaways at 9.8 per game, though the turnover margin ended even with eight for each team.

Temple was still up by 12 with 1:20 left until the break, but in the final minute of the half, Savage shot down a triple from an empty corner. The Colonials pressured Morgan into a bad three-point attempt on the other end and Savage swept up the rebound. Then Yuta Watanabe got his first points of the game from the field with GW’s second three-pointer in a row, and the Colonials had cut the lead to six with 22 seconds before halftime.

But then Savage fouled Temple’s Quenton DeCosey shooting a three-pointer, and DeCosey hit 2-3 from the line to put the lead back at eight going into the half.

Considering where GW had come back from, it was the type of momentum-stealer that caused Lonergan to tag it “the worst play of the game.” But in the beginning of the second half, GW started to look like a team playing to extend its season.

Freshman Yuta Watanabe scored 15 points in GW's 90-77 loss to Temple on Sunday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Freshman Yuta Watanabe scored 15 points in GW’s 90-77 loss to Temple on Sunday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Watanabe hit a three, then a layup for five points in the first minute and a half of the second half. Larsen pulled the Colonials within three at 40-37, the closest GW had been since the opening of the game, with a pair of makes from the free-throw line.

But that was Temple’s wake-up call. The Owls made back-to-back buckets and midway through the half were back hovering around a 10-point lead. One game after Will Cummings scored a season-high 30 points against Bucknell in Temple’s NIT first-round win, he led the team again with 21 points, including an 8-8 mark at the free-throw line.

“When we’re trying to play a containment defense and takeaway Cummings’ penetration and they just killed us off the boards, that wears you down,” Lonergan said.

Time after time, the Colonials looked like they were getting back in the game. Savage, Watanabe and Larsen made three straight three-point plays for the Colonials, but Devin Coleman, working off the bench, came in with an answer to each one of them.

Coleman’s tip-in, strong defensive rebound and layup put Temple back up by 12 with 7:49 to go. The Owls controlled the rebounding margin 38-26 and 14-8 off the offensive glass.

“We had some pretty good defensive stops, you think about two of our guys that usually rebound, Yuta had one and Joe had one,” Lonergan said. “Those guys are getting four to eight rebounds each, so it’s hard to overcome.”

And with five minutes left, they were back up by 15. Coleman had played 11 minutes and had 11 points. Temple brought the lead to 18 until Larsen hit his second three of the night, bringing senior John Kopriva to his feet on the bench.

It would be Kopriva’s final game as a Colonial, but the lead was too much to overcome.

The women’s basketball team’s coaching staff, having also felt the sting of a disappointing postseason exit on Friday in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, made the trip to Philadelphia. Though they were denied a celebration for the second time, this season marked the second straight year that both GW basketball teams have reached the postseason.

“I’m happy with what they did, but they had some goals when they came in that we haven’t reached those goals yet so this offseason is huge for us,” Lonergan said. “I’m excited about the future, I feel bad for John Kopriva but I am happy we only lose one senior.”

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All the Panthers in the Pittsburgh Zoo couldn't hold back junior Kethan Savage on Tuesday night, who scored 14 points in the first half and 17 overall to lead the Colonials to their first-ever NIT win. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

All the Panthers in the Pittsburgh Zoo couldn’t hold back Kethan Savage on Tuesday night. The junior scored 14 points in the first half and 17 overall to lead the Colonials to their first-ever NIT win. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

PITTSBURGH – With just over a minute left to play in an NIT first-round matchup against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, junior Kethan Savage found himself in a familiar position.

It was not exactly a game-on-the-line situation, but up just 55-53 with under a minute to play, the guard knew he needed to score. Dribbling at the top of the key, Savage drove halfway to the rim, pulled up and hit a step-back jumper to give GW the final field goal it desperately needed.

A few free throws later, despite shooting just 34.4 percent from the field on the night, the Colonials secured their first-ever NIT win with a 60-54 victory over the Panthers in a quiet Petersen Events Center.

“Tonight, we didn’t turn the ball over, and we made Pitt turn the ball over. That was a key stat for us,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I knew [Pittsburgh] was going to be good defensively and play hard, but our guys responded.”

Savage would lead the Colonials off the bench with 17 points, while junior guard Patricio Garino added 14 points and a game-high four steals in the six-point win. Junior forward Kevin Larsen and junior guard Joe McDonald added seven points each, and Larsen posted a team-high nine rebounds.

“[Coming off the bench] allows me to be aggressive, and that was my mindset tonight,” Savage said. “[Pittsburgh] didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for us, and we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for them, so they didn’t know my game too well. So I just wanted to be aggressive and pick my shots.”

A layup from sophomore guard Cameron Wright opened the contest and allowed the Panthers jump out to an early lead at home. Wright would lead a Pittsburgh offense that shot 50 percent from the field in the first half with seven points in the frame.

Freshman Yuta Watanabe totaled six points and three rebounds as the Colonials topped the Panthers 60-54. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Freshman Yuta Watanabe totaled six points and three rebounds as the Colonials topped the Panthers 60-54. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Savage kept the Colonials alive before the break, hitting back-to-back threes in the game’s 14th minute. He would finish the first frame with a team-high 14 points, going five for six from the field.

The Panthers worked down low to secure a 17-12 lead midway through the first half as GW struggled to keep pace. But multiple Pittsburgh turnovers soon jolted the Colonials’ stagnant offense, which went on a 10-0 run following a Panthers missed free throw.

Larsen had two straight baskets in the double-digit run, while Garino padded a solid offensive effort in the first with six points and all of his four steals. The Colonials outscored the Panthers 15-4 off turnovers, of which they had just two, making up for a 35.3 percent clip from the field to take a 28-23 lead at halftime.

“I think we were mentally prepared,” Garino said. “We were hungry for the game and we didn’t want our season to end on a bad note.”

A resurgent Panthers squad fought back to cut its deficit to two early in the second half, but GW matched the offensive intensity throughout. Strong play by Garino and Larsen helped GW hold serve for much of the frame.

“When we struggle to score in the second half, we stop playing really hard… That’s been the frustrating thing about this season,” Lonergan said. “But tonight, even when we had some scoring droughts, our guys still grinded it out defensively, figured out ways to get to the free-throw line and get offensive rebounds.”

Pittsburgh closed within two again after junior guard James Robinson hit his team’s first three-pointer with about eight minutes to play. But senior forward John Kopriva, who finished the night with five points and four rebounds, followed suit on the other end to pull his team ahead 50-45 and add to GW’s 23.5 three-point shooting percentage.

Head coach Mike Lonergan led the Colonials to their first NIT win in program history on Tuesday night against Pitt. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Head coach Mike Lonergan led the Colonials to their first NIT win in program history Tuesday night against Pitt. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Kopriva’s bucket would be the Colonials’ last field goal until Savage’s last-minute jumper as McDonald and Garino finally made some free throws and a total of 16 Panthers’ turnovers guided GW to the win in the game’s closing seconds.

Despite the Panthers out-rebounding them 41-35 on the night, the Colonials held the edge on the offensive boards 14-6 and scored seven second-chance points to Pittsburgh’s two, a testament to the team’s determination, Lonergan said.

“Joe, Patricio and Kevin combined for 11 offensive rebounds. To me, that was just heart and effort and energy, and we had it tonight for whatever reason,” Lonergan said. “I think our guys really wanted a win and they were battling in there on the boards.”

The Colonials will play the winner of No. 1 seed Temple and No. 8 seed Bucknell in the second round of the NIT.

Freshman Paul Jorgensen celebrates after hitting a crucial three-point shot in the second half. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Freshman Paul Jorgensen celebrates after hitting a crucial three-point shot in the second half. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

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What: No. 5-seed Men’s basketball (21-12, 10-8 A-10) vs. No. 4-seed Pittsburgh (19-14, 8-10 ACC), First round of National Invitation Tournament

When: Tuesday, March 17 at 7 p.m.

Where: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pa., ESPN

After a 71-58 defeat at the hands of Rhode Island in the Atlantic-10 Championship quarterfinal the Colonials return to action in their second consecutive postseason appearance, taking on Pittsburgh in the first round of the NIT.

No. 5-seed GW will travel to the Steel City for a matchup with the No. 4 seed Panthers for the first time since 2004. Barring an upset, Tuesday night’s winner will earn the right to battle No. 1 seed Temple in the second round. The Owls will play No. 8 seed Bucknell on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh, a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference that sent six teams to the NCAA tournament this year, began their season strongly and even took down powerhouses like No. 8 Notre Dame and then-No. 12 North Carolina in conference play.

A once promising bubble team dropped its final three games of the regular season before being eliminated from the ACC Tournament in the second-round by NCAA Tournament-bound NC State. The Panthers are favored by three points, but expect a close contest between two unfamiliar teams.

The Case for Pittsburgh:

Sophomore forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young steer a Pittsburgh offense that is shooting a 44.6 percent clip from the field, averaging 13.8 and 13.5 points per game, respectively.

Senior guard Cameron Wright, despite battling injury for much of season, anchors the Panthers’ backcourt averaging 9.2 points in his 25 games played this year. Junior guard James Robinson averages 8.8 points per game and rounds out the offense with a team-high 5.1 assists.

Pittsburgh holds the seventh-best assist average in the nation in fact, posting an average of 16.5 per game to GW’s 11.7, second worst in the A-10. The Colonials were outscored 24-20 in the paint in their quarterfinal loss to URI and the Panthers also have the potential to solve GW’s defense down low with good ball movement.

The Case for GW:

Each member of the Colonials’ junior core four is currently averaging double digits in scoring. The third-years are led by guard Patricio Garino’s average of 12.4 points per game, while junior forward Kevin Larsen is averaging a team-best 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.

GW holds a clear edge on the Panthers on the boards, averaging 37 rebounds per game to Pittsburgh’s 33. The Colonials were able to outrebound URI 42-39 last game and will have a better chance at besting the Panthers if they can continue to dominate the glass.

Despite going just 1-16 from three in their last game, GW is also shooting the three-ball better than their ACC opponent with an average of 35 percent from beyond the arc to Pittsburgh’s 34.2. Senior forward John Kopriva, playing for the right to continue his career as a Colonial Tuesday, leads his team with a 46.2 three-point percentage.

The Colonials scoring defense is also more proficient than Pittsburgh’s, conceding an average of just 61.4 points per game, ranking them 50th in the nation. If GW can find a way to score on the road and stay tough on defense the team may be able to steal this one from the home team.

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Kevin Larsen attempts a shot in the Colonials' loss to Rhode Island. Larsen played 38 minutes in the game as GW exited the A-10 Tournament in the quarterfinals. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Kevin Larsen attempts a shot in the Colonials’ loss to Rhode Island. Larsen played 38 minutes in the game as GW exited the Atlantic 10 tournament in the quarterfinals. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It was the start of conference play and GW was nipping at the heels of a national ranking. The team had just won the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, taking down then-No. 11 Wichita State, and cruised through a final non-conference matchup. It seemed the Colonials could see their name on the crawl as a top 25 team.

They went into hectic Hagan Arena in Philadelphia to fight Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 season opener. At one point GW was up 17 points and cruising to a victory, able to rest starters and let the bench log some minutes. But missed free throws plagued them down the stretch, and the starters had to stay in.

The Colonials barely won the game, but seemed poised for a long run at the top of the conference and into the NCAA Tournament. Amid discussion of his 15 points and nine rebounds, preseason second team all-conference selection and reigning Most Improved Player in the A-10, junior Kevin Larsen, commented on the 30 minutes he played.

“I don’t think I can play a whole season of 40 minutes,” Larsen said. “It’s nice to get a break and watch how the game goes.”

Larsen would finish the season-to-date Friday night in a quarterfinals loss to Rhode Island at the Barclays Center averaging 33.2 minutes per game. He played 38 minutes against the Rams during a game in which tired legs led to tired fouls.

Fatigue can make any team falter. And when a team can’t keep up, sometimes all that’s left to do is foul.

There has been plenty of water cooler talk about missed free throws for the Colonials. In their exit from the A-10 tournament, they allowed free throws to be their achilles heel again. This time, though, it was the amount of freebies their opponent took – 44 for Rhode Island in the game.

The junior core four are all averaging above 30 minutes per game. Playing back-to-back games in Brooklyn, the Colonials relied on a seven-man rotation, including senior John Kopriva and freshmen Yuta Watanabe and Paul Jorgensen.

GW committed a season-high 27 personal fouls, putting more strain on the team’s depth. The Rams’ 44 free throws were a season-high against GW, though several came out of desperation in the closing minutes of the game. They created 29 points from the charity stripe, about 41 percent of their total.

“We don’t have a bench with too much depth,” head coach Mike Lonergan said after Friday night’s game. “So we can’t afford to have our veteran players getting silly fouls that keeps them out of the game.”

By halftime, the Colonials had three players with two personal fouls: juniors Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage and rookie Jorgensen.

Free throws and fouls were a statistical strong suit all year. In the regular season, GW averaged 15.5 fouls per game overall, and 17.1 per game in losses. Opponents averaged 15.1 free throw attempts per game overall, and 17.8 per game in losses.

Still, GW struggled in games when that wasn’t the case. The Colonials averaged 6.4 more free throw attempts per game than their opponents, but in losses, the differential was just about even. GW shot just 0.3 more free throws than opponents.

And there was a handful of games during which the free throw line was utter kryptonite for the Colonials, and most of those games came at times when the team was playing a heavy schedule.

In the Colonials’ regular season matchup against Rhode Island – which came at the end of a stretch during which GW played four games in nine days – they were 9-17 from the free throw line, while the Rams went 20-22. Larsen also played 38 minutes in that contest and finished with four personal fouls.

So despite ending the year atop the A-10 in fouls committed, the Colonials haven’t kicked their free throw troubles yet. Getting beat while giving up nearly 30 points from the free throw line was an outlier, but it happened and it ended GW’s run for a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

There’s still the NIT, but eyes have started to look toward next year, and Lonergan knows conditioning will be a big part of changing the script.

“We have to do a better job coaching, and our juniors have to be really motivated,” Lonergan said. “Teams are made in the offseason. Got to be in better shape. I thought [the Rams] were in better shape.”

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Coach Mike Lonergan speaks to junior Joe McDonald during the Colonials A-10 Quarterfinals loss to Rhode Island on Friday. McDonald was one of many Colonials to have a frustrating night, going 3-10 from the field and 0-4 from beyond the three-point arc. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Coach Mike Lonergan speaks to junior Joe McDonald during the Colonials A-10 Quarterfinals loss to Rhode Island on Friday. McDonald was one of many Colonials to have a frustrating night, going 3-10 from the field and 0-4 from beyond the three-point arc. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – With 10.7 seconds left in his final Atlantic 10 Tournament game, senior John Kopriva pulled up and airballed a three. It was the 18th missed shot for the Colonials since they’d gone up by four with 11:30 to play, and it was also the last straw. Head coach Mike Lonergan subbed in rookie Anthony Swan and the Rhode Island players on the court started to embrace.

The Colonials made just five baskets in that period, and shot 21.2 percent in the second half to fall 71-58 to the Rams in the Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals.

“A tough loss for us. Though we were in pretty good position,” Lonergan said. “So give them credit. They are a very good defensive team. They played very hard. Just couldn’t put the ball in the basket the last ten minutes.”

The Rams, the A-10s best scoring defense, stifled the Colonials. Only Patricio Garino, who put up a heroic 17 points, shot at least 50 percent. Kopriva joined him as the only other Colonial in double figures, putting up 11.

As the saying goes: Live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot. A day after scoring 73 points, the Colonials shot 31.1 percent from the field overall and were 1-16 from three-point range.

“I don’t think that was 16 bad shots,” Kopriva said. “I thought we got some good looks. They just didn’t go down.”

But though the top scoring defense did it’s work the Colonials, who foul the least of any A-10 team, sent Rhode Island to the line for 44 free throws which led to 29 points.

It was the second time this season that free throws had doomed the Colonials against Rhode Island. In their regular season matchup GW missed four shots from the stripe down the stretch and watched the Rams go 20-22 from the line in their best free throw shooting performance in program history.

“You know, ten of them, we fouled at the end, but our game plan was to don’t foul,” Lonergan said. “We had veteran players that kept getting silly fouls, running, offensive rebound. And we don’t have a bench with too much depth. So we can’t afford to have our veteran players getting silly fouls that keep them out of the game.”

Thirty-one of those shots from the line came in the second half, after GW had battled all the way through the first and led 32-30 at the break.

It had been back-and-forth all the way and the score hovered in the high 30s midway through the second half for what seemed like an eternity. Both teams were struggling to score – E.C. Matthews travelled, only to have Biggie Minnis steal the ball to stop GW. Then Minnis missed a wide open dunk.

Just after, with the game tied at 39, Rhode Island stopped GW from even getting a shot off before the shot clock buzzer sounded on the next possession, mostly by trapping Savage in the corner.

But the Rams got their own turnover on the next possession and as Garino shot down the court, Matthews, the A-10’s fifth most prolific scorer, fouled him. Matthews didn’t like it and put on an emotional display that gave him a technical foul, the team’s second after head coach Danny Hurley took one earlier in the period, to put him at three personal fouls with 11:30 to play in the game. The Colonials made all four of their free throws coming out of the break to go up 43-39.

But that’s when it all unraveled. Rhode Island scored six straight points, a layup and a free throw for Minnis, a layup and one for Buchanan. Kopriva picked up his second and third fouls during the run.

“We just didn’t make plays. I thought our guys put themselves in position to try to make the right plays but didn’t. Separation just became too great,” Lonergan said.

At that point there were ten minutes left in the game. The Colonials got nothing out of their next offensive possession and Martin gave the Rams a four point lead with a dunk on the other end, in the midst of what would be a 17-5 run.

Try as they would, GW couldn’t get back in the game. A backcourt violation turnover for Savage was especially costly, as was a missed layup for Larsen. Larsen finished with 10 rebounds to tie with Garino for the lead and the Colonials outrebounded the Rams 42-39. Garino said the rebounding margin was a positive, but that it didn’t matter in the loss.

“We just try to fight every possession we can, and maybe today wasn’t enough,” he said.

With the possibility of an auto-bid to the NCAA tournament gone, GW will await its postseason fate. Lonergan said he is hoping to go to the NIT, where the Colonials have been projected as a four-seed.

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Yuta Watanabe goes up for a dunk in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Watanabe scored 12 points in the game, the second straight in which he has reached double-figures. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer.

Yuta Watanabe goes up for a dunk in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Watanabe scored 12 points in the game, the second straight in which he has reached double-figures. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer.

Way back in the dark ages of November, head coach Mike Lonergan said that he wanted four guys scoring in double figures for his team. He got his wish Thursday night in GW’s 73-55 win over Duquesne in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Championship, but maybe not in the way he was expecting.

Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen, all members of the junior “core four” of the team, scored 10 points or more, 12 for McDonald and Garino and 10 for Larsen. They were joined by Yuta Watanabe, the only player outside that junior quartet that Lonergan was referencing in his preseason comments, who co-led the team with 12 points while also adding six rebounds, two assists and a steal.

It marked the second straight game when Watanabe was hot shooting the ball. He scored a career-high 21 points on 7-10 shooting, all from beyond the arc, against UMass in the regular season finale, a resurgent performance for Watanabe that’s helped GW get out of a slump using a hot hand.

“Lately, we’ve gotten our confidence,” said head coach Mike Lonergan. “Part of that is Yuta. He had a lot of games where he’s 1-for-5, 0-for-5, and now he’s bounced back. And when he hits shots early, he was terrific. That gave us team confidence.”

In moments on Thursday night, it finally looked like Watanabe had been eating his wheaties. He had three offensive rebounds and it was he who finally got the tipin on a play midway through the first half that took three offensive rebounds for GW to get a basket. Watanabe had the best position in the low post and fought his way up for two points.

It came amid a fantastic stretch for the rookie. He hit a three-pointer on GW’s next possession, then dished the ball to Joe McDonald who drained a triple of his own on the possession after that. Lonergan subbed out three guys, but left Watanabe on the court.

“Well, I’m practicing every night by myself. So I got confidence, like every time, so I just take shots,” Watanabe said.

On the next play, Watanabe swiped the ball from Duquesne’s star shooting guard Micah Mason. The ball ended up in the hands of Paul Jorgensen who misfired, but he got another chance and sank a three after Watanabe was there for the offensive rebound.

Watanabe started the season strong, averaging eight points per game through January 17th.
He was a welcome burst of offense in a team that didn’t score much, winning games with defense instead. But GW was still winning, so head coach Mike Lonergan went with an if-it-ain’t-broke approach, continuing to focus on defense and counting Watanabe’s smooth stroke as an extra blessing.

But then it did break. The defensive juggernaut disappeared as February rolled around, giving up a season-high 78 points at Duquesne on Feb. 11 and then doing it again when VCU scored 79 three days later in the Smith Center.

Then, when it really mattered that the team couldn’t score, Watanabe averaged 4.5 points per game in the 12 games between January 17th and the UMass game.

Garino attributed the slump to better scouting by teams who “knew he was a shooter” and forced him into more contested shots, but with his confidence low, Watanabe also stopped shooting the ball. It was normal for him to take seven or eight shots in a game for much of the season, but starting in late January that changed. Even when he moved into the starting lineup, he had performances like his 1-3 night at Richmond. The Colonials suffered seven of their 11 losses of the season in that 12-game stretch.

The bulk of that is certainly not on Watanabe’s shoulders. He’s a freshman who, with a holistic eye towards the season, has lived up to the high expectations set for him at the beginning of the season.

But it still didn’t help. Performances like he put on against UMass and against Duquesne, though, certainly do. Not everything has to fall – sandwiching that stretch against the Dukes were two missed threes and the young player finished 5-12, good for the most misses of any GW player – but Watanabe has teammates there to remind him of that.

“He was one of our best shooters, clearly, so we just tell him to keep shooting and be confident with the shot,” McDonald said. “He’s got a nice stroke. He’s a lot taller when he plays the three position, he’s a lot taller than the other guards he goes up against. So he has a height advantage to shoot over them. Just be confident.”

The Colonials would love for him to go 7-10 every night, but that’s unrealistic. But 5-12 works too, so Watanabe’s coaches and teammates have a simple piece of advice for him: Keep shooting, Yuta.

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What: GW (21-11, 11-8 A-10, 1-0 Tournament) vs. Rhode Island (21-8, 13-5 A-10, 0-0 Tournament)
When: Friday, March 13 at 9 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY, NBCSN

The Ides of March are nearly upon us, and in college basketball terms that means throw out the rule book and your expectations with it.

Still, the Colonials will play their first Atlantic 10 championship game as an underdog Friday in a matchup with No. 3-seed Rhode Island after beating No. 11-seed Duquesne Thursday night.

Rhode Island is a much stronger team than the Dukes, but also a very different one. The Rams rely on their defense, the best in the A-10 and 19th in the nation at 59.4 points per game allowed, but sometimes struggle to score with just two scorers in double figures.

If the Colonials can get the win Friday night, they’ll have to take on the winner of No. 2-seed Dayton and No. 7-seed St. Bonaventure in the semifinals.

The Case for the Rams:

GW was forced to prepare for a block party in Brooklyn after Duquesne tied a tournament record with 12 blocks in their first round game, but wound up being the dominant presence inside as the Dukes blocked just five shots.

The party may, however, just have been postponed. Hassan Martin, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, leads the A-10 and is ranked seventh in the country with three blocks per game. Kevin Larsen showed what he can do when he plays big against Duquesne, throwing his body around for 10 points and 15 rebounds, but Martin will be a bigger challenge to contain and combat.

Rhode Island, also, will be coming in with fresh legs off a double-bye while the Colonials won’t even have a full 24 hours of rest.

Extra energy for the A-10′s fifth-best scorer E.C. Matthews isn’t what GW is looking for, but even if they shut him and Martin, who has the league’s best field goal percentage at 64 percent, down it was all-rookie selection Jared Terrell who had six steals, 17 points and four rebounds in 29 minutes when these two teams met last. Rhode Island is 12-0 when Terrell scores more than 10 points.

The Rams won that game 59-55 and forced 21 turnovers. The Colonials were stingy with the ball Thursday, committing just seven turnovers, but Rhode Island’s defense is on another level from Duquesne.

The Case for the Colonials:

Junior point guard Joe McDonald said that vengeance played an important role in the second-round win over Duquesne. That will be the case again on Friday after the Colonials blew a five-point lead late in their regular season matchup with the Rams.

That loss, though, actually doesn’t seem too bad for GW’s chances Friday. The Colonials missed four straight free throws down the stretch in that game and Rhode Island, normally a poor free throw shooting team, went 20-22 from the line in the best free throw shooting day in team history. It may be Friday the 13th, but it doesn’t get unluckier than it did in back on that day in January.

The 1-3-1 was deadly for the Rams, who missed all but one of 14 three point shots, and the Colonials will look to disrupt them like that again.

If they can do that, recent history says they should be able to out-pace Rhode Island for the upset. GW has been on a scoring tear lately, averaging 80 points over their last two contests and making 10 or more threes in four of their last five games.

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Joe McDonald drives to the basket in the Colonials' victory over Duquesne. McDonald finished with 12 points in the 73-55 victory. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Joe McDonald drives to the basket in the Colonials’ victory over Duquesne. McDonald finished with 12 points in the 73-55 win. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Up against the second-highest scoring offense in the Atlantic 10, it was GW that was able to knock down shots when it counted.

Behind an impressive offensive team effort, No. 6-seed GW took down No. 11-seed Duquesne 73-55 in the second round of the A-10 Championship on Thursday night at the Barclays Center.

“I thought both teams shot the ball very well from the outside, and we did a very good job rebounding the ball,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’m happy for our guys. This is an important game for us.”

Junior guards Joe McDonald and Patricio Garino, and freshman forward Yuta Watanabe co-led GW with 12 points each. Junior forward Kevin Larsen padded the effort with his play down low, adding a double-double with 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

The Colonials got off to a fast start, jumping to a 7-0 lead in the game’s opening minutes. Watanabe led his team with a half-high 10 points, and GW shot at a 55.6 percent clip from the field in the first half.

“Today I just tried to play hard,” Watanabe said. “I had a good game against UMass, so I had confidence. I just tried to keep shooting.”

Sharp three-point shooting was also on display for the Colonials, who were perfect on their first four attempts from long range and finished the half going 8-12. McDonald sank three from beyond the arc to follow Watanabe with nine points in the half.

Behind Larsen’s seven first-half rebounds, GW dominated the boards in the first frame, out-rebounding the Dukes 18-10. Lonergan also got his bench involved early, as eight different Colonials would put up points in the half.

Junior forward Jeremiah Jones had three of Duquesne’s five field goals from deep to guide his team with nine first-half points, but the Dukes would shoot just 40 percent from the field in the frame. Though they had just three turnovers, a weak rebounding effort and a hot GW offense left Duquesne with a 40-27 deficit at halftime.

“I think for me it’s just shot preparation,” McDonald said. “Our assistant coach, Maurice Joseph, has done a good job getting us ready and just keeping our confidence high with the shot, and he always says, ‘Be shot ready.’”

But the Dukes would not go quietly. Junior guard Micah Mason turned it on and hit a whopping five threes in the second half to finish the contest with a game-high 22 points.

While Mason was getting hot early in the second, the Colonials began to cool off. GW was ahead by as much as 15, but midway through the second half, it found its lead cut to as few as four points.

“We knew [Mason] was a big matchup. He gets hot really quick. He really knows how to shoot,” Garino said. “Even though he had 22 points, we contained the whole team.”

Up 50-46, a strong play down low by senior forward John Kopriva, who finished the night with a healthy nine points and six rebounds, earned the team’s lone fourth-year a bucket and a free throw with a drawn foul. The three-point play began an 11-point GW run that helped the Colonials weather the Dukes’ offensive onslaught.

Following the double-digit run, GW never looked back. Seven points from junior guard Kethan Savage helped GW outscore the Dukes’ bench 18-0 to round out the Colonials’ scoring as the team coasted to the 18-point victory.

“I probably should have called a timeout. We had a few 10-second violations, which was kind of shocking,” Lonergan said. “We knew they’d make a run. Basketball is a game of runs, so I’m glad we survived it.”

Despite a game that was decided by outside shooting, the Colonials outscored the Dukes 32-16 in the paint and edged Duquesne 44-30 on the glass after a strong team rebounding effort.

GW continues its A-10 Championship run against No. 3-seed Rhode Island on Friday at 9 p.m.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015 10:52 a.m.

Preview: Men’s basketball vs. Duquesne

What: Atlantic 10 tournament, second round, No. 6 men’s basketball (20-11, 10-8 A-10) vs. No. 11 Duquesne (11-18, 6-12 A-10)
When: Thursday, March 12 at 9 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hot off a commanding 87-65 victory over Massachusetts to close out the regular season, the Colonials roll into Brooklyn for a second-round showdown against Duquesne.

Behind a career seven three-pointers from freshman forward Yuta Watanabe in the team’s season finale, GW concluded an up-and-down season on a high note and should enter the postseason with some confidence.

Duquesne also enters Thursday’s matchup on the heels of a win, taking down No. 14 Saint Louis 61-55 in the first round. The six-point victory was the Dukes’ first A-10 tournament win in six years.

The Colonials were able to handily defeat Duquesne 74-59 at home on Jan. 24, but fell to the Dukes in Pittsburgh 78-62 just a few weeks later in a season-altering loss. With both teams fighting to keep a season alive and take on No. 3 Rhode Island on Friday, this rubber match could go either way.

The case for Duquesne:
Despite a subpar regular season record, the Dukes never had a problem producing offense this year. Duquesne had the second-best scoring offense and three-point field goal percentage in the A-10, averaging 72.3 points per game and a 36.7 percent clip from beyond the arc.

Junior guards Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, who averaged 13.2 and 12.2 points per game, respectively, lead the high-powered offense. GW held the pair to a combined 20 points in January, but an improved shooting effort in the teams’ most recent meeting allowed the duo to combine for a crippling 42 points.

Improved defense will be the key for Duquesne, a team that finished with the worst scoring defense in the league this year, conceding an average of 75 points per game.

But a solid two-three zone and 12 blocked shots last night against the Bilikens could give the Dukes the confidence they need on the defensive end. To advance, Duquesne must continue locking down the paint and keep quiet GW’s threats down low.

The case for GW:
While their opponent was one of the worst defensive teams in the A-10 this regular season, the Colonials were one of the best. Conceding an average of 61.3 points and 32.2 rebounds per game, and averaging 4.0 blocks and 5.6 steals per game, GW should be able to frustrate the Dukes’ offense.

Offensively, junior guard Patricio Garino leads three other Colonials averaging double figures in scoring with 12.3 points per game. Junior guards Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald posted an average of 11.4 and 10.2 points per game, respectively, with McDonald adding a team-high average of 3.1 assists per game.

Junior forward Kevin Larsen leads the Colonials’ fervent rebounding effort by averaging 7.0 boards per game, tenth-best in the conference. GW finished with a league-leading +4.3 rebounding margin and will need strong play on the glass to overpower Duquesne.

If multiple Colonials get going offensively and the team can play a sturdy 40 minutes defensively, the No. 6 seed can easily avenge its February road loss.

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