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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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The expectations have begun.

A panel of Atlantic 10 head coaches and media members picked GW to finish second in the conference at basketball media day Tuesday, the best finish since GW was favored to win before the 2005-06 season and an eight-place leap from last season when the team was expected to finish 10th.

GW finished with 343 votes in the poll, behind unanimous first place pick VCU, which finished with 392 points. Junior guard/forward Patricio Garino was also picked for the Preseason All-Conference First Team as well as the All-Defensive team.

Garino wasn’t the only Colonial to will All-Conference honors: Junior forward Kevin Larsen made the Preseason All-Conference Second Team and junior guard Kethan Savage made the Preseason Third team.

Garino earned spots on the All-Conference Third team at the end of last season as well as the All-Defensive team after scoring a team-leading 12.8 points per game in conference play.

Larsen had a breakout performance last season, averaging 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in league play en route to the A-10’s most improved player award. He averaged 11.4 points per game for the season as a whole.

Savage could be one of this year’s breakout candidates, even as the team’s leading returning scorer, after a foot fracture caused him to miss most of the last 15 games of last season. He was averaging 13.4 points through 18 games.

The preseason poll heightens the buzz around the team after being picked slightly lower by offseason polls. SB Nation’s Mid-Major Madness had picked the Colonials to finish third behind VCU and Massachusetts, and CBS Sports college basketball writer Matt Norlander picked the team fifth behind Saint Joseph’s, Dayton, Richmond and VCU. The A-10 coaches and media picked Dayton to finish third followed by Massachusetts and then Richmond rounding out the top five.

GW equaled its second-most wins total in program history last year with 24, tied for third in the A-10 regular season and received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The team will be back in action Nov. 8 with an exhibition game against Bloomsburg.

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This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Nora Princiotti.

The men’s basketball team recruited two more highly-touted players, the athletics department announced Thursday, with Matt Cimino and Yuta Watanabe signing National Letters of Intent.

Cimino, the big man from Worcester Academy, posted 13.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his senior season as a Hilltopper. One of the top 25 centers in the 2014 recruiting class, the three-star recruit could make an immediate impact filling in for graduating senior Isaiah Armwood. With his 6-foot-10 frame and solid outside shooting skills, he will serve as a strong counterpart in the frontcourt alongside sophomore Kevin Larsen.

“Matt is a very skilled post player who can stretch the defense with his outside shooting,” head coach Mike Lonergan said in a release. “He has a nice inside-outside game and with continued hard work in the weight room he will become a very good player for us.”

Watanabe is another three-star recruit who will bring solid international experience and a smooth stroke to the Colonials lineup. Originally from Japan, Watanabe averaged 13 points and six rebounds in a 26-8 season at St. Thomas More Prep, making it to the National Prep Championship game, where he scored a team-high 25 points to cap off his first season in the U.S. Back in Japan last May, the 6-foot-8 forward played for the Japanese National Team in the FIBA East Asia Championships.

“Yuta is a very versatile player who can play several positions,” Lonergan said in the release. “He has the ball-handling and shooting abilities of a guard and the athleticism and height of a forward. We expect him to make an immediate impact for us because of his combination of skills.”

Both players will have opportunities to impact next year’s squad, though physical development is a must. Both Cimino and Watanabe are listed at only 200 lbs.

The recruits, which also includes NLI signees Darian Bryant, Paul Jorgensen and Anthony Swan, will join a team coming off a 24-9 season and trip to the NCAA tournament. The Colonials will strive to fill the holes left by the team’s leading scorer, graduate student guard Maurice Creek, and its captain, Armwood, who averaged 12.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

“All five of our signees are very talented and driven, and we expect them to mesh well with our returning players to help us continue to build the program and capitalize on the success of the 2013-14 season,” Lonergan said.

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Graduate student guard Maurice Creek played his final game after receiving 10 stitches in the first half. Cameron Lancaster | Assistant Photo Editor

Graduate student guard Maurice Creek played his final game after receiving 10 stitches in the first half. Cameron Lancaster | Assistant Photo Editor

GW fell just one shot short of completing an improbable second-half comeback Friday, falling to the No. 8-seeded Memphis Tigers, 71-66.

Graduate student Maurice Creek got a final look at tying the game, but as many of his shots did at the PNC Arena, it did not fall.

In his final game as a Colonial, senior Isaiah Armwood led his team with 21 points on 9-12 shooting. Along with sophomore Kevin Larsen, who had 16 points, the frontcourt would carry GW all game long.

Memphis responded with an offensive showcase of its own, having no problem with GW’s 1-3-1 defense. The Tigers recorded 19 assists on their way to 49 percent shooting. Senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. led his team with 19 points, while fellow senior guard Joe Jackson would add 15 points and six assists.

Creek missed a large chunk of the first half as he received 10 stitches above his right eye, but would come back as a non-factor for GW. The guard finished with nine points on 2-13 shooting, 2-8 from three.

Down five at the half, the Colonials would amount a strong second-half comeback but would leave 10 points at the line, going 14-24 from the charity stripe.

Check back soon for the full story.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014 11:56 p.m.

Photos: GW vs. VCU in A-10 semis

Brooklyn, N.Y. – GW’s Atlantic 10 title hopes evaporated on Saturday. The Colonials could not maintain their strong first-half performance, losing to No. 23 VCU.

Here’s what photo editor Samuel Klein captured from the baseline:

Sophomore Joe McDonald goes up for a layup Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Joe McDonald goes up for a layup Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Joe McDonald tries to captain GW's offense against VCU's "havoc" defense. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Kethan Savage made a brief return to the court Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Forward Isaiah Armwood got GW off to a solid start Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Forward Isaiah Armwood got GW off to a solid start Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Senior Isaiah Armwood slams home a dunk Saturday for two of his team-high 15 points. | Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Senior Isaiah Armwood slams home a dunk Saturday for two of his team-high 15 points. | Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomores Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino walk offthe court after GW's loss to VCU Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomores Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino walk offthe court after GW’s loss to VCU Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Kethan Savage, who has been out for most of the season with a foot injury, saw a brief appearance on the court Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Joe McDonald ties his show after being looked at by trainers at the end of Saturday’s game. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen try to stop a VCU player on Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Patricio Garino and Isaiah Armwood try to stop a VCU player on Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Head coach Mike Lonergan, who has garnered praise this year for turning around GW, instructs players on the sidelines Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Head coach Mike Lonergan, who has garnered praise this year for turning around GW, instructs players on the sidelines Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Forward Kevin Larsen stretches on the sideline before Saturday's game. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Forward Kevin Larsen stretches on the sideline before Saturday’s game. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore forward Kevin Larsen loses the ball against two VCU defenders Satruday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore forward Kevin Larsen loses the ball against two VCU defenders Satruday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Senior Nemanja Mikic fires a three in the first half. Mikic carried GW with his hot shooting again on Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Senior Nemanja Mikic fires a three in the first half. Mikic carried GW with his hot shooting again on Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Joe McDonald struggles to get around a VCU defender. The Rams are famous for their "havoc" defense that suffocates offenses. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Joe McDonald struggles to get around a VCU defender. The Rams are famous for their “havoc” defense that suffocates offenses. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

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Sophomore forward Kevin Larsen loses the ball against two VCU defenders Satruday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore forward Kevin Larsen loses the ball against two VCU defenders Satruday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Ben Krimmel, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

For the first 20 minutes Saturday, the Colonials weathered the storm.

But hampered by a fast-paced tempo and punishing inside play, GW crashed out of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the hands of VCU.

There is no good time to play a very solid team like VCU, but there is a bad time to play them. And with a quick turnaround from last night’s punishing game against Massachusetts, Saturday afternoon was the wrong time for GW.

After a solid first half, GW entered the halftime interval down a bucket and converting 48.1 percent of its shots from the floor. The only blemish of the opening period was the sight of Kethan Savage limping back to the locker room, as the sophomore’s return to action entailed only one uneventful minute. (Savage never looked comfortable on the floor, and upon returning to the bench after his fleeting flash of action, looked rather relieved to get off his ailing foot.)

During halftime, head coach Mike Lonergan encouraged his team to keep getting the ball to his big men and continue the hot starts of senior Isaiah Armwood and sophomore Kevin Larsen, who combined for 18 points on 8-for-11 from the field.

But VCU was able to neutralize the inside play of the Colonials with their ox of a man: Mo Alie-Cox. Alie-Cox’s strength was immediately apparent as Larsen struggled to gain position on every possession and GW’s 6-foot-10 sophomore could only hope for a stalemate verse the ox.

After the half, Larsen and Armwood would score just five points (2-6 from the floor) as the 6-foot-6, 250 pound Alie-Cox asserted his dominance, grabbing six points and six rebounds during that span.

VCU head coach Shaka Smart was pleased with his 20-year-old’s defense: “He changed a lot of plays around the basket,” Smart said. “He’s credited for two blocks, but he changed so many more, and I thought he did a terrific job on the glass, as well.”

How terrific on the glass? Well GW managed just 11 second-half rebounds compared to 20 corralled by VCU. As the Colonials shooting percentage dipped to 33.3 percent in the second half, second-chance points disappeared with the GW hopes of playing on Sunday.

After the game, Armwood sat at the podium visibly disappointed and took the blame for the poor performance.

“The second half we didn’t do the job on the boards,” he said. “They are known for rebounding and we knew that coming into the game, we just didn’t put a body on them.”

Even with the daunting Alie-Cox and senior forward Juvonte Reddic — who grabbed 10 rebounds — fatigue is what got the Colonials in the end. Fatigued from playing two games in one 18-hour span after a long regular season played with a very short bench. GW may be glad not to have to play again for a few days.

And while there was postgame sulking from Armwood and his head coach, Sunday will be a historic day for the program, as GW will earn their first NCAA Tournament bid in seven years.

Lonergan said it best after the game: “We’ll be miserable for a few hours,” he said. “But I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will be a great day in my life.”

An invite to the dance is the best cure for the Colonials current woes.

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GW had nothing left in the tank.

After trailing the No. 23 team in the country by just two at halftime, shots stopped falling for the Colonials as VCU stayed hot on its way to a 74-55 victory.

GW will now have to wait until 6 p.m. Sunday to find out its fate in the NCAA Tournament. In ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket, the Colonials were picked as a No. 7 seed, taking on No. 8 Pittsburgh in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Disappointed with the loss. I thought it was a pretty good game for about two-thirds of the game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I think Nemanja [Mikic] hit a shot with 7:43 left and then after that we just struggled to score.”

The Colonials played the first six minutes without turning the ball over a single time. VCU’s pressure would not change, but the Colonials lost their ability to hold on to the ball. In the final 14 minutes of the half GW turned the ball over 11 times, mostly coming by way of errant and telegraphed passes. The Colonials ended the game with 15 turnovers off nine Ram steals.

GW handled the pressure of VCU’s press early on the game, though, best illustrated by the Colonials first possession of the game. Three crisp passes, first from sophomore Joe McDonald to graduate student Maurice Creek and then to a running Kevin Larsen led to a two-handed slam for senior Isaiah Armwood.

Armwood proved the spark for the Colonials early on, but as it did for the rest of GW, fatigue took its toll as the game progressed. In the first four minutes of the game, the senior scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds, appearing very comfortable in the paint and attacking VCU’s frontcourt on every possession.

“Early in the game we made all the right plays,” Armwood said. “It was the turning point in the game where it wasn’t necessarily them making us turn the ball over, we had some uncharacteristic turnovers that let them take the lead going into halftime and it continued in the second half.”

Senior Nemanja Mikic complemented Armwood’s first-half scoring. For the second straight game, Mikic became GW’s three-point threat, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half to finish with 12 points in 16 minutes of play.

Struggling in the first half was Larsen, who had the added responsibility of being ball handler in the absence of Kethan Savage. Larsen turned the ball over five times in the half, but came alive in the second, scoring four straight points for GW to finish with 10.

VCU was led by junior forward Treveon Graham, who despite early foul trouble, still led the Rams with eight points at the half. Graham’s damage would be done in the second half, however, as he scored seven points in the first five minutes – just the beginning of a scoring tear that led to 22 points and four assists.

The Rams as a whole picked up their offense in the second half, seeming to heat up as the Colonials legs grew tired. After shooting 39.4 percent in the first half, VCU shot 56.5 percent in the second half, opening the half 5-for-6 from the field. Junior Briante Weber ran a fluid offense for the Rams, dishing out a game-high eight assists, while scoring 16 points.

The Colonials fought hard to stick with the Rams, but were ultimately unable to match the production and energy of VCU’s scorers. The Colonials limited their second half turnovers to four, but would only shoot 7-for-21 from the field, struggling to find open looks and convert attempts.

VCU’s success would also be found in their ability to out-rebound GW in the second half. After ending the first half tied at 17, VCU ultimately outrebounded the Colonials 37-28, leading to 12 second-chance points.

Senior Isaiah Armwood slams home a dunk Saturday for two of his team-high 15 points. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Senior Isaiah Armwood slams home a dunk Saturday for two of his team-high 15 points. | Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

“If you can outrebound GW by nine, that’s a heck of a feat,” head coach Shaka Smart said.

GW would also miss the production of McDonald and sophomore Patricio Garino, who combined for just nine points Saturday. Garino went scoreless in the first half and after a small offensive run in the second, would go silent for the Colonials finishing with six points on 2-of-9 shooting.

McDonald also struggled to shoot the ball, making just one field goal in the game. McDonald’s role Saturday was as primary ball handler, in which he did a more than exceptional job, but his beat-up body would take one too many hits as he left the game with 5:28 left to play after tweaking his ankle. McDonald returned for a short stint a couple minutes later, but would exit the game for good, fouling out of the game with 3:03 left to play.

“It might have been his ankle, which I felt good about since it wasn’t his hip,” Lonergan said. “I knew it would be tough, but he’s a warrior, he plays so hard and I didn’t have a lot of choices as you can see. Give VCU credit, they wore him out and wore all our team out, but hopefully he’ll be back by NCAA’s.”

Sophomore Kethan Savage made his first appearance since Jan. 18 after fracturing his foot against St. Bonaventure, but unfortunately, it was short lived as he played only one minute.

“He cut and he felt some soreness. I think he told the trainers to have me take him right out, so it was tough,” Lonergan said. “I feel bad, I’m hoping he’s alright and maybe a few more days.”

Sophomores Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino walk offthe court after GW's loss to VCU Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomores Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino walk offthe court after GW’s loss to VCU Saturday. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

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Ben Krimmel, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

The Colonials had a mission for the Atlantic 10 Tournament: Avoid being “one and done.” With a hard-fought 85-77 win over Massachusetts, it was mission accomplished.

Now with one A-10 win under their belts, GW has nothing more they need to prove to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. And that may be a good thing, because after a physical 40 minutes Friday, they may have nothing left in the tank for Saturday.

The Colonials only get 17-hours between the buzzer vs. the Minutemen to prepare for the pressure defense of VCU.

As head coach Mike Lonergan spent the game heaping abuse on the referees and motivating his players, VCU head coach Shaka Smart sat across the court, calmly waiting for his team’s opponent to step forward.

GW's bench erupts during the Colonials' red-hot second half Friday, in which they shot 51.7 percent from the field. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

GW’s bench erupts during the Colonials’ red-hot second half Friday, in which they shot 51.7 percent from the field. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

And despite the Colonials only having a few hours disadvantage when it comes to rest, they played a vastly tougher game than the Rams did. Tired legs will likely play a bigger role than skill on the ball come 4 p.m. Saturday.

But as this GW season has taught many around the A-10: the “on-paper” matchup is rarely an accurate prediction of the outcome.

After the win over UMass, Lonergan reminded the assembled media that they predicted his Colonials to finish tenth in the conference. GW finished third. Nemanja Mikic reminded everybody in the world that he could make open shots — pouring in 14 points in 12 minutes of reserve duty. And in case anybody needed this reminder, in college basketball, March is the month of unexpected results.

In the first two meetings this season between GW and VCU, there were few constants: hot shooting, tough defense and a plethora of turnovers.

In the first meeting, GW shot 54.4 percent, while committing a total of 43 turnovers, but used its 1-3-1 zone to harass, and all but control, the VCU offense—earning a 10-point victory.

But in that game the Colonials had guard Kethan Savage to help handle the pressure. Savage was out with injury during GW’s 17-point loss to VCU in the second matchup and will likely not play today.

Last night, when the Minutemen brought pressure in the second half, GW struggled to adjust to the pace. The VCU pressure is even more of a pest and can kill a team short on ball handlers, short on energy and short on time to prepare. The Colonials are all three.

But it will take more than a short turnaround after an emotional, physical game to dampen the spirit of these Colonials.

The lasting memory of GW’s game last night was the physical pounding the Colonials took without showing an ounce of quit. The beating from UMass big man Cady Lalanne was unrelenting, but GW forwards Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen were unyielding.

Against VCU they will have to deal with Mo Alie-Cox — an ox man at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, known as one of the most physically imposing players in the conference. The GW guards, on the other hand, will have to deal with Brainte Weber harassing them for all 94 feet of Barclays Center court.

But the box score doesn’t tell the story of a game, past performances don’t tell the story of a team and anything can happen Saturday afternoon.

This is March. Disregard all conventional wisdom.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014 10:22 a.m.

Photos: GW vs. UMass at Barclays Center

Brooklyn, N.Y. — GW’s 85-77 win over UMass on Friday night was the Colonials’ first win in the Atlantic 10 tournament since 2007. The game drew thousands of students and alumni to Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hatchet photo editor Samuel Klein was on the sidelines to capture the action.

Isaiah Armwood goes up for a slam against UMass on Friday night. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Isaiah Armwood goes up for a slam against UMass on Friday night. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Patricio Garino is hit by a UMass defender as he goes up for a basket. The sophomore scored 10 points in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinal. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Patricio Garino is hit by a UMass defender as he goes up for a basket. The sophomore scored 10 points in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinal. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Guard Maurice Creek gets a hug after Friday night's game in Brooklyn. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Guard Maurice Creek gets a hug after Friday night’s game in Brooklyn. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

A raucous GW fan section cheered in the Barclays Center on Friday night. The Colonials drew nearly 2,000 fans to Brooklyn. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

A raucous GW fan section cheered in the Barclays Center on Friday night. The Colonials drew nearly 2,000 fans to Brooklyn. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

The Colonials made the trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night, playing in front 8,755 fans. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

The Colonials made the trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night, playing in front 8,755 fans. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

GW's bench erupts during the Colonials' red-hot second half, when they shot 51.7 percent from the field. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

GW’s bench erupts during the Colonials’ red-hot second half, when they shot 51.7 percent from the field. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Head coach Mike Lonergan, in his third year on the GW sidelines, calls for a play in his team's Friday night win. Lonergan was a presence as usual on the sidelines: waving, stomping and flailing during big plays. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Head coach Mike Lonergan, in his third year on the GW sidelines, calls for a play in his team’s Friday night win. Lonergan was a presence as usual on the sidelines: waving, stomping and flailing during big plays. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Guard Maurice Creek lunges back for the ball in Friday night's win over UMass. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Guard Maurice Creek lunges back for the ball in Friday night’s win over UMass. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Kevin Larsen drives in the paint on Friday night. The forward scored just six points but grabbed seven rebounds. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Sophomore Kevin Larsen drives in the paint on Friday night. The forward scored just six points but grabbed seven rebounds. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald celebrate in GW's 85-77 win. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen and Joe McDonald celebrate in GW’s 85-77 win. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

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Brooklyn, N.Y. – For the first time since 2007, the men’s basketball team will get to play a second game in the Atlantic 10 Championship.

After being eliminated by Massachusetts in last season’s A-10 opening round and suffering its lone home loss of the year to the Minutemen, GW finally came out on top, winning 85-77 in Friday’s A-10 quarterfinal matchup.

Six Colonials scored in double figures, thanks to 50.8 percent shooting from the field – its highest in seven games. GW will take on VCU for the third time this season in Saturday’s semifinal matchup at 4 p.m.

“It’s a good feeling,” senior Isaiah Armwood said. “We’ve got six players in double figures scoring. We score a couple times and they came back and cut it down to maybe eight, so we wanted to keep stretching the lead. So it’s definitely a good feeling moving on to the next round.”

Sophomore Kevin Larsen goes for the jump hook over a Massachusetts defender in Friday's A-10 Quarterfinal win. | Photo Editor Sam Klein

Sophomore Kevin Larsen goes for the jump hook over a Massachusetts defender in Friday’s A-10 Quarterfinal win. | Photo Editor Sam Klein

The Colonial shooters were electric in the first half, going 15-30 from the field, while being led by senior Nemanja Mikic and sophomore Joe McDonald. McDonald scored five of the first seven points for GW and would finish with twelve points on the night. The point guard would add seven assists to just one turnover, over a game-high 37 minutes of playing time.

GW found the open man all game long, posting 18 assists on its 30 made field goals.

Graduate student Maurice Creek would struggle in the first half, missing all five of his shot attempts, but for the first time in recent games, was saved by the bench. By the end of the first half, GW’s bench had scored 14 points, mainly from the three-point presence of Mikic.

Mikic went 3-5 from beyond the arc, draining all three of his treys in the first half. As a team, GW would go 6-12 from beyond the arc for the game and the bench would end the contest with 19 points.

“I think lately, the last couple games, Maurice Creek has really been hitting those shots and I’ve been pretty much got a lot of open shots lately,” Mikic said. “They didn’t go in the last couple of games but coach, the team believed in me, passed me the ball when I was open and they dropped down tonight.”

Besides its hot shooting, GW won the battle with its defense. The Colonials went after every loose ball, trapped the Minutemen in the corners and pressured the UMass ball handlers. GW would force five turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game and finish the night with 19 takeaways.

The Minutemen were led by junior Maxie Esho and senior Chaz Williams, who came alive for the Minutemen in the second half. Esho, who was instrumental in UMass’ comeback against URI Thursday, would go 7-11 from the field and finish with a game-high 22 points. Williams would score 16 of his 19 points in the second half, trying to will his team back into the game as his teammates shots kept clanking off the rim. Lonergan would describe Esho as a “handful” and added that Williams’ quickness was hard to control.

UMass cut the 12-point GW lead to four in the closing seconds of the first half, but a 5-0 stretch over just four seconds of play, off a corner three from freshman Nick Griffin and a lay in by Armwood, got the lead back up to nine, 40-31.

“What was difficult honestly was the end of the first half – it drew me to insanity actually,” UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said. “It was not fun in the locker room, because we cut it to four, the flow of the game was our way, I thought we had them right kind of where we wanted them. A couple of non smart basketball plays gave them the momentum going into halftime.”

GW extended its lead in the second half and continued its success shooting the ball. The Colonials shot 51.7 percent in the second half, led by 10 points from sophomore Patricio Garino and nine from Creek after missing his first eight shots. GW would lead by as many as 18 points.

Despite their success, the Colonials began to unravel with sloppy turnovers, committing 17 turnovers on eight UMass steals. The Minutemen began to press the Colonials backcourt, leading to seven turnovers by the GW guards and a slow comeback.

As expected, UMass crept back into the game, and as expected their push would be led by Williams. After not scoring for the first nine minutes of the second half, Williams would score 16 points on a combination of quick attacks through the lane and timely threes.

Even as the lead got down to single digits late, the more mature Colonials remained confident and handled the pressure. There would be no hands in towels this time around – instead, a grudge match with the Rams to decide a berth in the A-10 finals.

Isaiah Armwood goes up for a slam against UMass on Friday night. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

Isaiah Armwood goes up for a slam against UMass on Friday night. Samuel Klein | Photo Editor

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