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Freshman Yuta Watanabe and junior Kevin Larsen visited the White House on Tuesday. Watanabe was invited as a sports ambassador between the U.S. and Japan. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor.

Freshman Yuta Watanabe and junior Kevin Larsen visited the White House on Tuesday. Watanabe was invited as a sports ambassador between the U.S. and Japan. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor.

While the Smith Center added a Japanese flag to its collection months ago, hundreds of flags have been popping up along the streets surrounding the White House in preparation for the official visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, which began Tuesday.

Men’s basketball freshman Yuta Watanabe was invited to the official arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn Tuesday morning, along with teammate Kevin Larsen, head coach Mike Lonergan and athletic director Patrick Nero. Watanabe also attended a lunch at the State Department Tuesday afternoon.

“It was a special experience,” Watanabe said. “Not every person can go inside so that was good for me.”

At the welcoming ceremony, President Barack Obama thanked the visiting prime minister for all that Japan has given the American people, emojis and karaoke included, and said he was excited to discuss the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries.

“This visit is a celebration of the tides of friendship and family that bind our peoples,” Obama said.

Abe also delivered a speech, and Watanabe, who is from Kagawa, Japan and is the fourth-ever Japanese native to play Division I basketball, looked on with the throng of spectators gathered on the sunny morning.

Watanabe and Larsen took a moment following the ceremony to snap some selfies, including one where Larsen tried to plant a kiss on Watanabe’s cheek.

“He didn’t, but he tried,” Watanabe said.

Watanabe said the lunch, which was hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, was the highlight of his day. He said he enjoyed his meal of fish and salad and got the chance to talk to other Japanese citizens.

Lonergan said that his favorite part of the day was getting to spend the beautiful morning outside, and to see Watanabe and Larsen excited along with the other spectators. After the ceremony, he chuckled that the team will have to win an NCAA Tournament so that they can go back to the White House.

“To see people from Japan and to see how excited they were in line to see their prime minister on American soil,” Lonergan said, “To see the joy in everyone’s faces, especially with what’s going on in Baltimore now, I think this is a great country but it’s good to see some happy faces instead of seeing some bad things on the news.”

President Obama, Michele Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe wave goodbye to a crowd, before entering the White House. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor.

President Obama, Michele Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe wave goodbye to a crowd before entering the White House. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor.

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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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Junior Kethan Savage fights off defenders in GW's first-ever NIT win against Pitt in March. Savage has expressed a desire to transfer from the program after three years at GW. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Kethan Savage fights off defenders in GW’s first-ever NIT win against Pitt in March. Savage is looking to transfer from the program after three years at GW. Hatchet File Photo by Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Men’s basketball junior Kethan Savage is looking to transfer from the program, the team announced Friday afternoon.

Savage averaged 11.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game this past season. He started the first 25 games of the season before moving to the bench for the final 10 games.

The Fairfax, Va. native has said that he wants to play point guard full-time, according to an athletics department release. Savage was used primarily as a shooting guard in his third year at GW alongside point guards junior Joe McDonald and freshman Paul Jorgensen.

“We appreciate the contributions Kethan made to the program over the last three years,” head coach Mike Lonergan said in the release.

Savage was part of the core group of four players that joined the program in 2012. He had a break-out year as a sophomore, increasing his scoring to 12.7 points per game from 3.1 as a freshman.

Along with freshman Darian Bryant and sophomore Nick Griffin, Savage would be the third player to transfer from GW following the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, which ended in the second round of the NIT. Savage would have one remaining year of eligibility after transferring.

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Freshman guard Darian Bryant will transfer from the men’s basketball team, an athletics communications staff member confirmed Tuesday.

Bryant’s transfer was first announced on Twitter by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

Bryant averaged 1.2 points in 5.4 minutes per game during his rookie season at GW. He was pegged as a potential contributor at the beginning of the season but struggled to match his defensive skill on the offensive end. He shot 36 percent and, though he saw early minutes in several games, classmate Paul Jorgensen took over many of the minutes Bryant had been playing as the season progressed.

The Bowie, Md. product becomes the second member of the team to transfer following GW’s NIT second-round exit on Sunday. News that sophomore guard Nick Griffin would transfer broke Monday.

Their departures leave head coach Mike Lonergan with two extra scholarships to try to add a transfer or additional freshman recruit to the team next year or to award a current walk-on player.

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Sophomore shooting guard Nick Griffin has elected to transfer from the men’s basketball team.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted Monday that Griffin would transfer and an athletics communications staff member confirmed that the Rockville, Md. native would be leaving the program.

Griffin saw limited minutes in his two years with the program and was used as a three-point specialist. This past season, he averaged 2.6 points in 7.9 minutes per game after averaging 1.8 points in 4.8 minutes per game as a freshman when he shot 48 percent from beyond the arc. His three-point shooting percentage dropped to 36 percent during his sophomore year.

Griffin, who suffered from the lack of spacing on the court this season but struggled with inconsistency in his shot, was the only sophomore on the team and the sole player remaining from head coach Mike Lonergan’s 2013-14 rookie class. Then-freshmen Miguel Cartagena and Skyler White both transferred at the end of that season.

The departure of Griffin frees up a spot for Lonergan to go after a late, unsigned high school senior to join the class of 2019 or to try to land a transfer student. Lonergan signed Maurice Creek as a transfer from Indiana before the 2013-14 season and Tyler Cavanaugh out of Wake Forest last summer.

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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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The Colonials won their first NIT game in program history Tuesday, topping Pitt on the road. The NIT is experimenting with a 30-second shot clock in tournament games this year. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer.

The Colonials won their first NIT game in program history Tuesday, topping Pitt on the road. The NIT is experimenting with a 30-second shot clock in tournament games this year. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer.

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

Just before halftime, legendary Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun talked about the duo of rule changes in place for the National Invitational Tournament. In likely preparation for an NCAA rule change, the NIT is experimenting this year with a 30 second shot clock instead of a 35 second one. The tournament has also put in place a 4-foot restricted area arc in place of the 3-foot one.

“We got to get attacking again. When that’s normal, that’s not good,” the former Huskies coach said about the widespread slow-paced offense in college basketball.

It has been well-documented how scoring output has been way down this year. It is approaching near record lows, averaging below 70 points per game. The pace of the game has slowed up, true by the numbers and by the eye-test.

Enter the NIT for observation.

In the first round of the tournament the 32 teams who did not make the cut for the Big Dance averaged 71 points per game. The winning team averaged 76.25 points and five different teams scored over 80 points. People like three-time National Champion coach Calhoun are excited. The pace of the game has picked up and with good reason.

When the Colonials played their first round game at Pittsburgh Tuesday evening on ESPN players, coaches and fans saw some of the potential effects.

By the box score it barely looked effective or pretty: the final was 60-54 GW. GW scored about seven points below their season average, but Pittsburgh missed theirs by roughly 13. The Colonials shot 33.3 percent in the game and the Panthers shot 48.9 percent. The argument by the numbers is pretty poor that the game was enhanced offensively by the 30 second shot clock.

Pitt said they barely prepared for the change, the players citing that they normally practice with a 30 second shot clock. There were questions of how much of an effect it had on the game.

“I don’t know. It was interesting. I thought about that afterwards. It didn’t seem to have a lot of effect,” Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon said. “I think it’s something we’re going to see. I think it’s something that’s going to be put into play shortly, so get used to it.”

GW, however, enjoyed it, led by junior Kethan Savage who had a team-high 17 points off the bench. Since moved as the sixth man he has been up and down. In the first round of the NIT Savage said he knew Pitt likely didn’t have time to scout him, so he was ready to do his thing.

“I think it helped us. We played a faster pace, moving the ball up and down, move the ball around and not let the ball stay. I think it helps us a lot to get better shots,” Savage said.

He had 14 of 17 points in the first half and attacked all game. It’s his normal means of scoring, but he said the shortened shot clock gave him a little extra incentive to try to score.

But turn to junior Patricio Garino to see the real benefit of the 30 second shot clock for GW. Garino’s modus operandi is defense and though the highlight next to his name Tuesday night was his 1,000th career point, it came courtesy of a Pitt turnover which he turned into easy fast break points.

“We were mentally prepared for 30 seconds and we knew we didn’t need to repeat what we did in A-10 Tournament with the shot clock,” Garino said.

It’s a bit counterintuitive that a shortened shot clock, designed to promote offense, would benefit defense, but that has been the case for the Colonials.

The quickened game seemed to help Garino get in a groove and allowed GW to do what they do best this year: Defend.

In his four years as GW’s head coach, Mike Lonergan’s teams have averaged 67.1 points. Last year, with the dynamic inside-outside threats of Isaiah Armwood and Maurice Creek, the Colonials averaged 73.0 points per game. When Lonergan was at Vermont for six years, his teams averaged 70.2 points.

This year’s average is 67.0 points, though and GW has relied on varying defenses throughout the year, often designed to wear down the shot clock. In their biggest wins, like against Wichita State, their defense starred by doing just that, forcing desperate shots at the end of possessions.

But GW’s defense got a new injection of flow and energy from the faster pace – they used it to force 16 turnovers – even if the shots weren’t falling.

When GW heads to Philadelphia to play Temple Sunday morning they will likely again embrace the shortened shot clock – on the defensive side. It could play out as an advantage throughout the NIT and perhaps into next season.

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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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Senior John Kopriva goes up for a shot in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Kopriva played his final Atlantic 10 Tournament game as a Colonial Friday in a frustrating loss to Rhode Island. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Senior John Kopriva goes up for a shot in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Kopriva played his final A-10 tournament game as a Colonial on Friday in a frustrating loss to Rhode Island. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

Before concluding a run at an A-10 championship title in a 71-58 loss to Rhode Island on Friday night, GW had hit 10 or more three-pointers in four of the previous five games.

A weakness the team had struggled with all season finally seemed to be remedied: 10 against the Bonnies, 11 in a loss to Davidson, a season-high 14 in the Colonials’ regular-season finale and 10 against the Dukes.

But the same GW offense that was rolling just days prior was held to a 31.1 percent clip from the field, the team’s worst all season, and was an anemic 1-16 from three-point range.

“A poor-shooting team has really become a pretty good three-point-shooting team, and tonight we didn’t have it,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Some layups were short… We had a wide-open look from the top of the key from a really good player, would have cut it to five. We just didn’t make plays.”

Freshman forward Yuta Watanabe, who secured a spot in the starting lineup late in the season, had a career-high seven three-pointers against the Minutemen and two in his 12-point night against Duquesne.

But early foul trouble Friday night kept the sharpshooter at bay, as the Rams held Watanabe to just one field goal and 0-2 from beyond the arc. Lonergan cited a lack of both physical and mental toughness as reasons why URI was able to get so many attempts from the charity stripe.

“[The Rams] have some strength, and Yuta gave up two three-point plays early. They went right at him, and he’s not strong enough yet. But we’ve got to give harder fouls,” Lonergan said. “Give them credit, they were tougher than us. Mental toughness, too, hurt us. We had veteran players that kept getting silly fouls.”

Junior guard Joe McDonald, another big Colonials threat from long distance, also found himself on the bench more often than his team would have liked after committing early fouls.

The hard-nosed point guard played a team-high 33 minutes and led GW with four threes in the win over Duquesne, but four personal fouls against URI limited him to just 26 minutes on the court, where he went 0-4 from three-point range and scored only three total field goals.

“I think [foul trouble] hurt us a lot in the first half, when Joe had two, and Yuta and Kethan [Savage],” junior guard Patricio Garino said. “I think it kills our momentum.”

Despite the fouls, the Colonials escaped the first half with a two-point lead. But with momentum on the downswing, GW field goals became a rare occurrence in the second half.

In addition to sending URI to the line 31 times in the second frame, the Colonials shot just 21.2 percent from the field in the final half. And while the poor shooting effort inhibited any GW offensive momentum, Lonergan also thought it helped the Rams – who, despite the best scoring defense in the A-10, often struggle to score – get going to the hoop.

“I thought we missed some easy shots, and they did a great job taking away our inside game,” he said. “And a lot of our missed shots led to run outs and easy baskets by [Rhode Island].”

The Rams would outscore GW 14-8 in fast-break points and bested the inconsistent GW bench 17-11 during a game in which the Colonials were desperate for some help off the pine.

It was emblematic of a frustrating season for the Colonials, who midway through the campaign looked like shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament. The highs were high, but the lows just as low. And the only consistent thing was that no one knew what team would show up on any given game day.

The group on the Barclays Center hardwood Friday night didn’t have it, so Lonergan will await the team’s NIT fate to see whether John Kopriva can continue his career as a Colonial. But since Kopriva is the sole senior on the team, Lonergan knows what he’ll be working with next season and is already thinking about ways to fit the pieces together a little more snugly.

“Hopefully our juniors bounce back and really be committed this off‐season as a group,” Lonergan said. “We had some guys that had bad years, and I had a bad year. So we have to do a better job coaching and our juniors have to be really motivated.”

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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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