A strong defensive team effort helped GW (19-11, 9-8 A-10) snap a five-game road skid in Fairfax as the team took down George Mason (9-20, 4-13 A-10) 67-51 to finish a lackluster road schedule at 4-9.
“I really thought the key was that we played defense like we played the first 20 games this season,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “That was a much-needed win for us.”
Behind 15 points and nine rebounds from junior guard Patricio Garino, the Colonials turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 16-point victory. Junior forward Kevin Larsen and freshman Paul Jorgensen bolstered the offensive effort with 11 points each.
Garino, who hadn’t scored in double figures in GW’s last three games, looked like himself again. Lonergan said GW is “a much better team” when he and junior guard Kethan Savage are producing consistently.
“The main thing I wanted to accomplish today was to get a win and get Patricio going,” Lonergan said. “He’s been playing defense all year but he’s struggled offensively a little bit, and we need his points, especially this team when we struggle to score.”
The Colonials came out strong and worked the ball inside early for a quick 4-0 lead. They would lead by as much as five and outscore their crosstown rival 18-8 in the paint in the first half, while George Mason opened the game shooting just 3-10 from the field.
Garino and Larsen guided the team with eight points each in the half, but the Patriots eventually found their stroke. George Mason picked up its shooting game midway through the half, shooting 55.6 percent from three in the first.
The Patriots’ starting guards combined for 21 points, including five three-pointers, as GW began to struggle to hold onto the ball. The road team would commit a disheartening nine first-half turnovers, with three coming from Savage.
But the Colonials seemed more composed out of the break, only turning the ball over four times in the second half while finishing the night with 12 assists. Tighter defense, which switched from man to zone multiple times during the game, also held the Patriots to just 24.1 percent from the field in the second half.
“The last couple games, in the second half, [our opponents] have been scoring over 50 percent, and I think we were stopping [George Mason] defensively in the one-three-one and were getting the rebounds that we needed,” Garino said. “Overall they didn’t go to the rim as much they wanted to.”
GW also got a much-needed boost from its bench, which outscored the Patriots’ reserves 22-7 on the night. Jorgensen led the charge off the pine, going 4-8 from the field and scoring all 11 of his points in the second half.
“I struggled the first half, and I was more upset that I couldn’t help my team, so in the second half when I saw my first shot go down, I thought, ‘This is a moment where I can really help us,’” Jorgensen said. “I just went from there, played confident and listened to the coaches and tried to execute.”
An 85.7 percent clip from the foul line and 38 rebounds to George Mason’s 29 would round out the night for the Colonials, who finished shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 5-13 from three.
The Colonials will play their final game of the regular season Saturday at the Smith Center in a 3 p.m. showdown with Massachusetts.