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Mike Lonergan

Rising up, Junior Kethan Savage shoots his first three pointer of the afternoon. Savage was 3 out of 4 from behind the arc. Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Rising up, Junior Kethan Savage shoots his first three pointer of the afternoon. Savage was 3 out of 4 from behind the arc. Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

It was 41 degrees and cloudy Saturday afternoon in the District, with light showers, winds from the southwest, and torrential downpour 3-pointers in the Smith Center.

The Colonials rained down 12 threes in a Homecoming beatdown of Duquesne on their way to a 74-59 victory.

Patricio Garino scored a game-high 20 points, Joe McDonald added 16, rookie Paul Jorgensen added a career-high 13 and Kethan Savage had a career-high eight of GW’s 17 assists on a night when guard play did it all for GW.

“We knew we would get open shots around the wings, but we also just talked about not settling,” McDonald said. “Kethan did a great job shooting the ball.”

GW hit four assisted 3-pointers to open the game. McDonald found Savage for the first, then Savage returned the favor twice, then McDonald stayed in the giving spirit with a dish to Nick Griffin who also hit for three.

Then Griffin put the Colonials up 15-9 with their fifth consecutive triple, this time doing it all by himself.

“They were going to pack it in which they did,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Kethan and Joe shot well and they gave us open shots. We’ve been shooting better lately but you’re at home and you’ve got wide open threes and you’ve got to knock it down. We made more than I expected.”

Duquesne set in its two-three zone, and the Colonials, finding it unnecessary to bother trying to penetrate it, went up 18-9 with their sixth three in a row, this time from Jorgensen.

Jorgensen, for variety’s sake if nothing else, hit a reverse layup on the next possession after GW got numbers up ahead off a steal by Savage. Despite scoring just 24 of their points in the paint on a night when Kevin Larsen and John Kopriva scored a combined four points, GW shot 48.1 percent for the game while Duquense shot 44 percent.

Still, the first half was a defensive beatdown above all. GW doubled-up Duquesne 40-18 in the first half where they took 60 percent of the shot attempts.

“We played really good man-to-man defense. Patricio is a terrific defender. We put Joe on [Derrick] Colter and we put Kethan on [Micah] Mason, and then we put Patricio to be able to help off, usually he guards the best player but today I wanted him to be able to be our help guy so we made them take some bad shots, some contested shots,” Lonergan said.

The second half began just like the first, a top-of-the-key three by McDonald, followed up by a McDonald-assisted three from Savage.

But the rest of the second half wasn’t as dominant, though it didn’t matter as GW enjoyed a 36 point lead

Freshman Paul Jorgensen celebrates a 3-pointer in the Colonials win against Duquesne on Saturday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Freshman Paul Jorgensen celebrates a 3-pointer in the Colonials win against Duquesne on Saturday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

with 13 minutes to go, the Colonials were outscored 41-34 and held without a field goal for nearly eight minutes.

“It was disappointing at the end but I told them in the locker room, that’s why some of the guys don’t play a lot,” Lonergan said. “Five years ago I would have left here in a bad mood but I get the bigger picture now.”

Colter found some looks against the man-defense to score nine of his 12 points in the second half. He was the only player for the Dukes to finish in double figures, though he got some help from the Duquesne bench that outscored GW’s reserves 30-25.

Sixth man Yuta Watanabe checked in at the first changing of the guard for Lonergan, the familiar “Yu-ta, Yu-ta, Yu-ta” resonating in the Smith Center with some extra emphasis after Watanabe sprained his ankle in GW’s last game against Fordham. Watanabe was limited to 15 minutes and three points and Lonergan said that he wasn’t 100 percent for the game.

But without Watanabe, the energetic Jorgensen had a breakout game. He broke the scoring drought with a layup with 2:10 remaining, and forty seconds later he was joined on the court by fellow rookies Darian Bryant, Matt Cimino and Anthony Swan and junior Ryan McCoy to close out the game. Duquesne had finally reached the fifty-point mark, but the faint smell of Red Auerbach’s cigar smoke seemed to have joined the Homecoming crowd in the Smith Center, where the Colonials have an unblemished record this season.

“I think we’ve played more focused now, we’ve focused on defense and we’re obviously making more shots. Our confidence is up.,” Garino said. “Away I think we’ve stayed a little more calm and used the experience we had to win the games.”

Momentum, experience and anything else will be welcome for the Colonials as they head on the road Tuesday for a 7 p.m. matchup at No. 16 VCU.

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Junior Joe McDonald jumps for a lay up against George Mason on Saturday. McDonald totaled 12 points as the Colonials defeated the Patriots 63-53. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Joe McDonald jumps for a lay up against George Mason on Saturday. McDonald totaled 12 points as the Colonials defeated the Patriots 63-53. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Midway through the second half, the Colonials were only up by six. Freshman Yuta Watanabe received the ball in the corner and put up a three.

Uncharacteristically, he air balled. But a big stop at the other end gave junior guard Patricio Garino a fast break chance, which he converted into a three-point play after being fouled on his layup attempt that fell, to put his team up 46-37.

The sequence embodied an up and down game in which the Colonials struggled from the field at times, but ended in another conference win for GW, taking down visiting George Mason 63-53 Saturday afternoon.

“I think last year we couldn’t close the close games, but now we have more experience,” Garino said. “We’re staying calm and executing play by play.”

Garino led the Colonials with 14 points and added five rebounds, followed by junior point guard Joe McDonald who had 12 points, knocking down three from beyond the arc, one shy of tying his career-high.

Despite being outrebounded 39-35 and outscored 28-14 in the paint, GW would pull off the 10-point win shooting 35 percent from the field and from three largely by going 23-31 from the foul line.

“[Free throws] are mental, but they’re contagious too so I’m glad we’re starting to make them because it keeps the other team from being able to get back in the game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

A signature alley-oop from junior guard Kethan Savage to Garino began the game with an exclamation point. Savage added 10 points and led the team with six rebounds in the GW victory.

With momentum on their side, the Colonials cruised in the opening minutes, going 4-5 from the field with two threes from junior guard Joe McDonald and senior forward John Kopriva contributing to an early 7-0 run. Kopriva would lead his team at the half with seven points and four boards.

But George Mason responded with a run of its own. Led by 6-11 freshman center Shevon Thompson, who would double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds on the day, the Patriots went on an 8-0 run later in the half to pull within one.

Despite the strong start, GW would miss ten consecutive field goals, but stayed in the game at the line, where they shot 82 percent on eleven attempts. While the Colonials went only 28 percent from the field in the first half,

Junior Patricio Garino led the Colonials in scoring on Saturday with 14 points. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Junior Patricio Garino led the Colonials in scoring on Saturday with 14 points. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

the Patriots would double GW in turnovers helping the home team secure a 26-20 lead at halftime.

“The first four out of five baskets were assisted on, and I think after that we only had one for the rest of the half,” McDonald said. “We addressed it at halftime and I think we did a lot better job in the second half.”

The Colonials would get a scare early in the second half when McDonald limped off the court with an apparent injury, leading his team with eight points as he headed into the locker room, but would return a few minutes later to a roaring ovation.

“I think we were even more focused when Joe went down, but he’s a true warrior and we knew he was going to come back,” Garino said.

Junior forward Kevin Larsen was held to just two points and zero rebounds in the first half, but turned it on in the second to finish the game with seven points and three boards.

“I thought Kevin started playing with a little more energy [in the second half],” Lonergan said. “He was much more of a presence inside, and when [George Mason] did collapse, he started kicking the ball out and we got some pretty good looks.”

Although GW had zero points from his bench in the first half, Watanabe would put up seven points in the second half while freshman guard Paul Jorgensen would add six. George Mason’s 13 total turnovers would also help the Colonials close out the game.

The Colonials head back on the road Thursday when they take on Fordham at 7 p.m.

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Kevin Larsen protects the ball against a double-team. Larsen's rebounding helped the Colonials outdo Richmond 43-24 off the boards, allowing the Spiders just two offensive rebounds. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor.

Kevin Larsen protects the ball against a double-team. Larsen’s rebounding helped the Colonials outdo Richmond 43-24 off the boards, allowing the Spiders just two offensive rebounds. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor.

Following a disheartening 13-point loss to conference foe La Salle, the Colonials were able to take down a visiting Richmond squad 73-70 in double-overtime less than a week later. Although the game was closer than the Smith Center crowd probably would have liked, the Colonials were able to keep their perfect home record intact. Here are three things that led to the thrilling GW win:

1. Kevin Larsen was on his game.

The 6-10 forward has had an up-and-down season, but showed exactly what he is capable of Thursday night. Larsen scored a career-high 22 points as well as a team-high 11 rebounds and three assists en route to the Colonials’ 13th win of the season.

GW is currently 11-1 when Larsen scores in double digits, while in three of the team’s four losses the big man put up just five points or less. His 7.5 rebounds per game is best on the team and sixth best in the Atlantic 10.

“[Larsen’s] a great player and really difficult to defend,” Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said. “He can score on his own but he’s also a terrific passer so you can’t commit all the time to double-teaming him. He’s probably the first guy you talk about.”

Larsen said he found success playing with the flow and letting the ball come to him against Richmond, as opposed to trying to do much like he thinks he did against La Salle where he led in rebounds but scored zero points for the first time all season.

“[Larsen’s] one of the best passers on the team, he’s a great facilitator,” junior guard Joe McDonald said. “When he’s aggressive it makes all of us better, you know I get open threes or Kethan gets his driving lane. When Kevin’s aggressive our team is a lot better.”

He may not be the absolute key to his team’s success, but if Larsen can consistently realize his potential, the Colonials will be that much tougher to beat.

2. Clutch shooting.

Despite the record-breaking season GW had last year, free throw shooting was a statistic the team could never really overcome. The team finished third worst in the A-10 last year, shooting 65.4 percent from the line.

Currently the Colonials are averaging 68 percent from the stripe, sixth best in the conference, but were able to go 82.8 percent at the line against Richmond, hitting a season-best 24 of 29 attempts.

More than half of the 24 points scored at the line were from Larsen and junior guard Kethan Savage who combined for 17. In multiple game-on-the-line situations, GW’s shooters came up big, and if that composure can carry through conference play, the Colonials will have a much easier time winning close games.

Away from the foul line, McDonald was able to knock down the biggest shot of the game, a corner three to put his team up by two in the second overtime period.

Since the departure of sharp shooter Maurice Creek, the Colonials have been searching for a player who can perform with the game on the line. While McDonald may not always be that player, he was on Thursday night.

“Joe was open, and he’s a big shot maker,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “That was definitely what we needed…We were all confident that when he shot it, it was going to go in.”

3. Rebounding as a team.

In a three-point double-overtime victory, you would expect both teams to be close in almost all statistical categories. But GW was able to outrebound Richmond 43-24 Thursday night, getting 13 offensive boards to Richmond’s two, which led to 19 second chance points for the Colonials, while the Spiders had none.

“They run their offense so close to the basket and I think that their guys are usually very good offensive rebounders,” Mooney said. “It puts pressure on you because during the possession most of the time most teams are so spread out but… it’s easier for them to go try and get an offensive rebound because they’ve started so close to the basket.”

Although Richmond is the worst rebounding team in the A10, the Colonials showed how dominant they can be on the glass. In its loss at La Salle, GW was narrowly outrebounded 27-26 with only one Colonial posting five or more rebounds.

Four Colonial starters finished with five or more against the Spiders, with senior forward John Kopriva and freshman forward Yuta Watanabe adding three each to round out GW’s rebounding by committee.

“We talked about rebounding before the game. [Richmond] just believes in getting their defense set, and they have a pretty good defense, so we had to try to exploit that,” Lonergan said. “I really thought the two keys to us winning that game were 43-24 on the boards and I thought our students, the Colonial Army and the crowd was tremendous by the end of the game.”

Averaging 37.5 per game, the Colonials are the third best rebounding team in the A-10, but must continue their consistency against tougher teams in order to go far in conference play this season.

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Kevin Larsen gets wrapped up by teammate Kethan Savage after Larsen set off the final run of GW's 73-70 double-overtime win against Richmond. Larsen scored a career-high 22 points and added 11 rebounds. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor.

Kethan Savage wraps his arms around teammate Kevin Larsen after Larsen set off the final run of GW’s 73-70 double-overtime win against Richmond. Larsen scored a career-high 22 points and added 11 rebounds. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Kevin Larsen pulled the Colonials within one with the chance to tie on an extra point. He missed, but grabbed a rebound on the other end after Richmond’s Kendall Anthony missed and saved a nearly lost ball by Patricio Garino.

It was a good thing he did for the Colonials, as Joe McDonald then put GW up by two with a corner three.

“They switched and I had [TJ] Cline, kind of stepped out and he kind of backed off, so I got a lot of confidence and I had coach saying shoot it as well,” McDonald said. “I’m glad it went in though.”

His teammates were glad, too. GW never lost the lead, topping Richmond 73-70 in double overtime Thursday.

And while McDonald took the big shot, the Colonials were spurred by a 43-24 mark off the boards, a 19-0 margin in second-chance points and Larsen’s career-high 22 points and 11 rebounds, just a game after he scored zero at La Salle.

“At La Salle, I tried to do too much instead of letting the game come to me, instead of when I just play with the flow, and that’s what I did tonight,” said Larsen, who compared himself to the NBA’s Dwight Howard and Josh Smith as a player who sometimes forces his game.

The Colonials (13-4, 3-1 A-10) had led by as many as 12 points five minutes into the second half, controlling the inside after holding the Spiders (9-8, 2-2 A-10) to just 17 points in the first half on 28.6 percent shooting.

But after GW’s largest lead of the game, Richmond hit three straight 3-pointers – just as the Spiders had done to open the game – and pulled within a possession at 33-30.

They went back and forth, Richmond cutting and setting screens to counteract GW’s size advantage. The Colonials had a three-point lead in the final seconds until they fouled Anthony shooting three, giving the Spiders’ leading scorer the chance to tie with 3.7 seconds left.

“For whatever reason, we backed off of him and then we reached in and that was a smart play by him,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’ll take the blame for it, we were definitely going to foul.”

Anthony finished with 20 points, followed by Cline with 16 points and six rebounds. With a series of cuts to the basket, Anthony almost singlehandedly closed the gap in points in the paint from 22-10 at the end of regulation to 28-22, still in GW’s favor.

“I really want to give Patricio [Garino] credit. I thought for maybe 35 minutes … he did a great job on Anthony,” Lonergan said. “I guess we got tired and then he started doing what he does best in getting to the right side and getting to the rim. He’s so quick and for his size. He finishes.”

Kevin Larsen protects the ball against a double-team. Larsen's rebounding helped the Colonials outdo Richmond 43-24 off the boards, allowing the Spiders just two offensive rebounds. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor.

Kevin Larsen protects the ball against a double team. Larsen’s rebounding helped the Colonials outdo Richmond 43-24 off the boards, allowing the Spiders just two offensive rebounds. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor.

Anthony stood at the line, the Smith Center rocked with taunts and cheers, drowning out the sound of each of his shots swishing through the net to take the game to overtime.

Anthony scored four points in the first overtime period, and GW was perfect on four free throws, including two from Savage to tie the game at 58. George Washington’s hatchet could have cut the tension in the air as Savage set up before making his second. GW finished 24-29 from the line, where Savage got nine of his 13 points in just 10 attempts.

Richmond got one more possession. The buzzer sounded with the scoreboard indicating a tie yet again, but there was confusion over whether GW had fouled going down the court. After a couple minutes of arguing and mild impropriety from the Colonial Army, the verdict was decided: no foul and double overtime.

“They were definitely going to video, so I was saying my prayers,” Lonergan said.

Richmond started to foul after McDonald took the lead. The Spiders kept close and drove up the score as Anthony became a one-man scoring machine.

Time ran out in a roaring Smith Center experiencing its first overtime since March 2013, and the Colonials got the win.

GW returns to the Smith Center on Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. matchup with Revolutionary Rivalry foe George Mason.

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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015 1:52 a.m.

Preview: Men’s basketball vs. Richmond

What: GW (12-4, 2-1 A-10) vs. Richmond (9-7, 2-1 A-10)
Where: Smith Center, ESPNU
When: Thursday, Jan. 15 at 7:00 p.m.

Last time out, the Colonials played a sloppy road game against a conference bottom feeder that they matched up badly with.

In taking on Richmond on Thursday, GW will be playing a better overall team than La Salle, but one they are more set up to contain.

Richmond’s style of quick cuts and screens will go up against GW’s 1-3-1 defense and other schemes as the Spiders look to maintain a perfect conference record and GW looks to get another win streak started.

The Case for Richmond:

The Spiders have righted the ship after dropping the final three games of their conference season. Richmond has won their first two Atlantic 10 contests, topping George Mason and St. Bonaventure both by double-digit margins.

They’re also one of two teams (Rhode Island is the other) ranked higher in the A-10 standings than GW in scoring defense. The Spiders are allowing just 58.9 points per game which could be troubling for the Colonials who were stagnant offensively last time out against La Salle.

Kendall Anthony, Terry Allen and TJ Cline lead the team in scoring and all average double figures at 15.6, 11.1 and 10.3 points per game but guard ShawnDre’ Jones is close behind at 8.6. The sophomore scored 25 points on 10-14 shooting last season against GW and is contributing this year to the Spiders’ +2.7 turnover margin with a 45-16 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The Case for GW:

While Richmond is strong defensively, the Spiders are scoring just 62.5 points per game. With the Colonials’ dominance in the Smith Center, Richmond may struggle to put up points on the board.

GW’s strong three point defense should also put a damper on Richmond’s long game. The Spiders make 6.1 threes per contest but are making them at just a .322 percent clip.

Absent an outside shooting game to help them keep up, the Spiders should also struggle inside. Richmond has a conference-worst rebounding margin at -5.6 boards per game and are pulling down just 27.9 rebounds per game.

The Colonials also enter this game with something to prove, a situation in which they often thrive. GW’s loss to La Salle was the first of the conference season and snapped a six game winning streak when no starter scored more than nine points. Head coach Mike Lonergan had the game tape from La Salle shown on the team bus on the way home, so expect some extra energy from the starting five to put the Colonials over the edge at home.

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Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015 4:56 p.m.

Colonials’ win streak snapped at La Salle

Head coach Mike Lonergan talks to his team alongside senior John Kopriva during GW's 63-50 loss at La Salle Saturday afternoon. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer.

Head coach Mike Lonergan talks to his team alongside senior John Kopriva during GW’s 63-50 loss at La Salle on Saturday. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Sophomore guard Nick Griffin hit three consecutive three-pointers in the first half to minimize, if only for a moment, the double-digit lead La Salle held nearly all game.

But down 17 with just over 12 minutes to play in the game, Griffin, the only Colonial who seemed to be on his game Saturday afternoon, air balled his final attempt from beyond the arc, embodying a frazzled road team that would lose to the Explorers 63-50, without ever finding a rhythm offensively.

“[The game] was just disappointing. [La Salle] was well-prepared, their defensive intensity was terrific and they just jumped all over us. We couldn’t even run an offense.” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “They exposed a lot of our weaknesses, but hopefully it’s a one-game thing. The score wasn’t indicative of the beating they put on us.”

Freshman forward Yuta Watanabe led the struggling offense with 12 points off the bench, followed by Griffin and junior guard Patricio Garino who each had nine. Junior forward Kevin Larsen recorded a team-high eight rebounds but had zero points on the day.

“I thought we gave [Kevin] the ball a lot, especially in the first half, and he had zero assists and five turnovers. It was kind of like the Virginia game – he was throwing the ball all over the place,” Lonergan said. “[Kevin] looked like he was tired. He was having trouble even getting up and down the court, his back was hurting a little he said.”

But the 6-foot-10 forward was not the only Colonial performing poorly.

GW’s five starters struggled and looked out of sync from the beginning, combining for just an anemic six points in the first half. The Colonials doubled the Explorers’ turnover total in the first half, racking up 14 giveaways with five coming in the first five minutes of play.

Junior point guard Joe McDonald handles the ball against La Salle on Saturday. The Explorers' pressure led starters McDonald, Kevin Larsen and Kethan Savage to combine for 15 of GW's 20 turnovers in the loss for the Colonials. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Junior point guard Joe McDonald handles the ball against La Salle on Saturday. The Explorers’ pressure led starters McDonald, Kevin Larsen and Kethan Savage to combine for 15 of GW’s 20 turnovers in the loss for the Colonials. Dan Rich | Hatchet Staff Photographer

The Colonials would end the day with 20 turnovers to La Salle’s 14, a steep increase from GW’s average of 11.8 per game, with Larsen and junior guards Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage combining for 15.

“Sometimes you can overcome one guy not playing well or two guys, but the halftime turnovers were incredible. You can’t give them that many possessions, especially when we’re trying to score,” Lonergan said.

While GW searched for its game, La Salle had no trouble scoring. Sophomore guards Jordan Price and Cleon Roberts led the game with 20 and 15 points respectively, while Roberts also contributed six rebounds to cushion senior center Steve Zack’s game-leading 11 boards.

La Salle, desperate for its first conference win, would finish the day leading nearly every statistical category including shooting, rebounding, steals, blocks and assists. The Explorers shot 44.7 percent on the game while GW hit only 39.5 percent of its attempts from the field.

“[La Salle] was on us the entire time,” McDonald said. “It took us out of our game and what we really wanted to do and that was wrong on our part. We really should have stuck to our game plan, but you have to give a lot of credit to [La Salle] because they came out strong from the get-go.”

Freshman guard Darian Bryant also sustained an apparent wrist injury, Lonergan said, and did not return to the game.

La Salle’s victory snaps a six-game GW win streak and deals the Colonials their first conference loss and fourth overall loss of the season, with each dropped contest coming on the road.

“We were definitely in bed early. I thought we were prepared mentally, but obviously we weren’t,” Lonergan said. “But I’m not looking at it like we can’t win on the road, that’s for sure.”

The Colonials return to action Thursday night when they battle Richmond at the Smith Center.

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Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 9:24 p.m.

Preview: Men’s basketball at La Salle

What: Men’s basketball (12-3, 2-0 A-10) vs. La Salle (8-7, 0-2 A-10)
When: Saturday, Jan. 10 at 12:30 p.m.
Where: Tom Gola Arena, Philadelphia, Pa.

Just a week after a 64-60 road win over Saint Joseph’s, the Colonials return to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon to take on Atlantic 10 foe La Salle in their third conference game of the season.

GW will look to remain undefeated in A-10 play and extend a six-game win streak, which matches the longest for the team under head coach Mike Lonergan. The Colonials narrowly topped Saint Louis at home Tuesday night and must stay focused against a La Salle team that won 76-72 at home against GW last year.

After three consecutive non-conference wins, the Explorers dropped their first two conference games to George Mason and Massachusetts and currently sit at the bottom of the A-10 with three other 0-2 teams. The Colonials are the statistical favorite, but expect La Salle to play with passion as the team searches for its first A-10 victory on a court GW hasn’t won on since 2011.

The case for La Salle:
Sophomore guard Jordan Price ranks third in the A-10 in scoring, averaging an impressive 17.1 points per game, but has combined for only 14 points in the team’s first two conference games. If Price can find his game, the Colonials may have trouble defending the versatile shooter.

While the Colonials rebound as a team, averaging 38 per game, La Salle depends on seniors Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright, who are averaging a team-leading 8.5 and 7.3 rebounds per game respectively. If the big men perform and receive help from teammates on the boards, La Salle may have a shot at snapping GW’s win streak.

One of the few statistical categories in which the Explorers lead the Colonials is free-throw shooting. To pull off an upset, La Salle will need to play aggressively against a lockdown GW defense and get to the foul line.

The case for GW:
Despite dropping their first game against the Explorers last season, the Colonials responded with a dominant 69-47 win when the teams met again at the Smith Center on Jan. 29.

Juniors Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage and Kevin Larsen are all scoring in double figures and will be able to best the Explorers’ defense if they remain composed.

Defensively, the Colonials also hold a clear edge. GW ranks 31st nationally in points allowed per game, 70th in blocks and 83rd in rebounds, while La Salle ranks 125th or worse in all three categories.

All signs point to GW in this early conference matchup, but expect La Salle to come out hungry and keep it close.

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Coach Lonergan calls for a foul as the game tightens up in the second half. The Colonials scored 43 points in the second half to overcome their 8 point halftime deficit and defeat the Billikens 75-72. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Head coach Mike Lonergan calls for a foul as the game tightens up in the second half. The Colonials scored 43 points in the second half to overcome their eight-point halftime deficit and defeat the Billikens 75-72. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

For a team that has beaten the Colonials in each of its last three tries, it wouldn’t seem like a lead would be surprising.

But the faces in the Smith Center midway through GW’s Atlantic 10 home opener against Saint Louis on Tuesday showed a mix of dismay and disbelief.

The Billikens came into the game on a two-game losing streak with an 8-6 record, rebuilding from the A-10 regular season championship squad that lost all five starters last season. But they were winning. Winning a strange first half where both teams were shooting near 60 percent, but winning.

They were winning, precisely, until Joe McDonald hit his second of a pair of free throws to tie the game at 49 with 12:19 to play. The Colonials hung on to win 75-72, beating Saint Louis to go to 2-0 in A-10 play and 12-3 overall. McDonald finished with 11 points and five rebounds as one of five Colonials to finish in double figures, led by Patricio Garino’s 18 points with six rebounds.

“We’re not a consistent team yet but we’re a good team, and hopefully we’ll learn that you have to play hard against everybody and that was a good game, a good win for us,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

Just five minutes before McDonald hit his shot, Saint Louis had led by 12.

GW’s defense was wearing Saint Louis down, goading the Billikens as they passed around trying to find a look until Milik Yarbrough, who finished with a game-high 26 points, had a rare miss on a desperate attempt as the buzzer sounded. The shot was too strong and clanged off the far rim.

Just after, the Colonials got the ball up to Kevin Larsen who was double teamed in the low post. Still, he muscled it up, but as he banked the ball of the glass, it rolled off the basket. Larsen picked it up off the floor and slammed it against his own forehead several times. He had gotten fouled, but only made one of the free throws.

Adding insult to injury, Saint Louis hit another one of 11 threes in the game on the next possession.

“We came out a little flat, myself included. I try to tell myself, ‘You’ve got to work harder in the second half. Lead by example and play your butt off,’” Larsen said.

But Larsen – who finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists – got another shot after McDonald miraculously saved GW’s next chance on offense, throwing his body for a falling rebound and hitting an easy bucket in the low post, the kind he’d been unable to establish earlier in the game. The Colonials managed just two offensive rebounds in the first half, but ended with a 17-6 edge in second-chance points with 10 offensive boards in the second half.

A couple plays after Larsen scored, Saint Louis missed the same kind of easy layup that just didn’t go in. Then Yuta Watanabe hit a three and GW was down by only two, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Watanabe also hit the go-ahead three pointer and finished with 10 points and three rebounds.

“He’s tremendous,” Garino said. “I think his energy is very, very necessary from the bench.”

Junior Patricio Garino nails a jumper towards the end of the first half. Garino had 18 points and 6 rebounds, leading the Colonials in both categories as they topped the Billikens 75-72 on Tuesday night in the Smith Center. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior Patricio Garino nails a jumper toward the end of the first half. Garino had 18 points and six rebounds, leading the Colonials in both categories as they topped the Billikens 75-72 on Tuesday night in the Smith Center. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Watanabe was the hero again at the last second when the Colonials got another scare after going back and forth with the Billikens, who tied the score twice late.

Saint Louis, down by three, got the ball back after an overthrown pass lost a possession for the Colonials. They hadn’t gotten a shot off with less than two seconds left in the game, but Larsen kicked the ball out of bounds and the Billikens got to reset. They managed a last-dash attempt for three, but Watanabe blocked it to seal the win.

The Colonials got just enough plays – eight steals, three from Garino, which helped the Colonials outscore the Billikens 19-7 off turnovers, an eventual 31-25 rebounding margin and a 34-24 edge in the paint, ending the game 23-34 from the free-throw line after starting 1-8 – to stop the Billikens, who shot nearly 55 percent in the game, and just enough for the Colonials to beat Saint Louis for the first time since 2011.

But Lonergan said he wasn’t thinking about previous wins or previous years, and that he’s expecting the Colonials, not the Billikens, to play the part of the A-10 elite.

“It’s time for us to beat everybody, hopefully, so I don’t look at it as we hadn’t beaten Saint Louis,” Lonergan said.

The Colonials go back on the road next, visiting La Salle on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff against the Explorers.

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Junior Kethan Savage drives between defenders in GW's 64-60 win over Saint Joseph's. Savage led the team with 16 points and added six rebounds and four assists in the opening game of the Colonials' conference season. Desiree Halpern | Contributing Photo Editor.

Junior Kethan Savage drives between defenders in GW’s 64-60 win over Saint Joseph’s. Savage led the team with 16 points and added six rebounds and four assists in the opening game of the Colonials’ conference season. Desiree Halpern | Contributing Photo Editor.

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

The sold-out arena in North Philadelphia was rocking late in the second half with a sense of tradition in the air and last year’s Atlantic 10 championship banner hanging from the rafters.

Saint Joseph’s had cut the GW lead to three points. Eight minutes before, they were down 20.

It seemed like the Hawks might have claimed the lead had the game lasted another minute – an impressive performance from a team that lost over half of its offense from last year. Last season’s team gave national champion the Huskies the biggest test of their tournament run.

Down the stretch, in which the Hawks went on a 30-13 run to close out the game, GW hung on. The Colonials would make a free throw, miss a free throw, rinse and repeat. Saint Joe’s gained momentum, but in one final trip to the line, up three, junior point guard Joe McDonald made his first and missed his second. Patricio Garino grabbed the board, and GW clung on to win 64-60.

“None of us thought we were going to lose this game,” junior forward Kevin Larsen said, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. “We felt pretty confident through the whole game. We just stopped playing as hard as we did to get up by 20, and that’s something we have to correct.”

Saint Joe’s had frustrated the GW offense early in the second half. It wasn’t until freshman ball handler Paul Jorgensen subbed in that the team seemed to get rolling. First he found Larsen for a lay in from the post. Then on a defensive trap, he poked the ball lose, ran the fastbreak and yielded it to freshman forward Yuta Watanabe for the slam. The bench finished with 14 points, 12 of which came from Watanabe.

At that point, it was 44-26. The GW fans were cheering, with Athletic Director Patrick Nero sitting in the front of the section. Saint Joe’s called a timeout. GW would maintain a 20-point lead for another five minutes, until the eight-minute mark. That’s when it all came undone.

Saint Joe’s pressed in the full court, rattling the Colonials. GW’s defensive intensity died down. The Hawks were finding easier points as the Colonials couldn’t convert on offense.

“We let them back in by not communicating and executing,” Larsen said.

Head coach Mike Lonergan talked about “stupid mistakes” following the game, but said the score never would have gotten as close as it did if the Colonials had made their free throws down the stretch. GW went 14-24 from the charity stripe, a 58 percent clip.

To build that initial lead, the starting five displayed moments of brilliance in the first half.

Larsen was doubled in the post, and lone senior John Kopriva went to work, as he usually does at the start of a game. Then McDonald sent a crisp pass to Kethan Savage, who screeched to a stop in the corner in front of the Hawks bench and drained a three. He hit another a few possessions later from the other corner. Savage finished with three threes.

“I’m just confident,” Savage said, who finished with a team-high 16 points, adding six boards and four assists. “Our whole team is confident coming off of the Diamond Head Classic. We’re not taking anything for granted. It’s a completely new season. We’re 1 and 0, and that’s our mentality. We’re going to take everybody’s best shot.”

Savage’s swagger showed in his patience. In the first half, commanding the point, he showed no rush. When the Saint Joe’s faithful counted down the shot clock in front of him, he moseyed his way into the paint and laid it up and in just before the bell. In the second half, with the clock expiring and Lonergan yelling to shoot, Savage lifted leisurely, sinking another 3-pointer.

Tenacious man to man did the job, highlighted by a dominant rebounding margin on both the defensive and offensive sides. In the first half, GW out-rebounded Saint Joe’s 27-10, including 10-3 on the offensive glass. The Colonials outscored the Hawks 18-8 in the paint and 8-2 on second-chance points – on the way to holding their opponent to the second-least amount of points in the first half all season. They relinquished just a few more than they had to Grambling State.

Regardless of the second half unraveling, the Colonials came out with a win in their A-10 opener – a road win.

“This is the type of a game, to reach our goals, we need to win this game,” Lonergan said. “Like I said, hey, we’re up 20, we got a veteran team on the court and we just didn’t close out well, and I thought we would with the experience we had. Like I said, when you’re missing free throws, it unfortunately affects our defense and concentration. We got to get a little bit more mentally tough and close teams out.”

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Junior guard/forward Patricio Garino completes a layup during the GW's victory over the UMBC Retrievers. Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior guard/forward Patricio Garino completes a layup during GW’s victory over UMBC earlier this season. Hatchet File Photo by Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball wrapped up non-conference play Tuesday with a commanding 80-60 victory over Virginia Military Institute to earn its 10th win of the season.

Junior guards Kethan Savage and Patricio Garino would both double-double, scoring 18 points and 16 points, respectively, while also recording 10 rebounds each. The double-double is the first of Garino’s collegiate career.

The duo led an offense that saw four Colonials finish the night scoring in double figures, as junior forward Kevin Larsen would score 12 and freshmen Yuta Watanabe put up 10 off the bench.

“This was a big game for us,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I think we shared the ball well in the second half. Kevin did a really good job of handling the ball in transition, and these guys got to the rim and finished some plays.”

Despite GW coming off a Diamond Head Classic championship win over No. 11 Wichita State, the less formidable Keydets (5-8) kept the game close early against the Colonials (10-3), with VMI’s high-scoring offense that was tied for the best in the nation coming into the contest.

VMI outshot the GW 33.3 to 32.5 percent in the first half, but sank only four of a whopping 19 attempts from beyond the arc. The Keydets were also able to narrowly out-rebound the Colonials 29-28 in the first frame, but 11 turnovers to GW’s four left VMI with a 35-29 deficit heading into halftime.

“I thought the 1-3-1 was working pretty well, but we had some guys sinking and started to give up some threes,” Lonergan said. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘I’m not here to motivate you. You’ve got to motivate yourselves.’ So we had a lot of energy in the second half.”

Following their sloppy start, the Colonials’ offense came to life and would outshoot the Keydets 65.4 to 25.7 percent in the second half. They outscored their long-range shooting opponent in the paint 52-24 on the night.

Led by junior point guard Joe McDonald, who had a team-high 11 rebounds, GW’s efforts on the glass also improved in the second frame as the Colonials would out-rebound VMI 49-45 on the night. But the team still lacked production from its frontcourt, which combined for just two rebounds.

“Joe’s rebounds are kind of loud because he’s so little and he was rebounding at the rim where a four man should be rebounding,” Lonergan said. “We have a great rebounding set of guards, but we’ve got to get our bigs to rebound at a higher level. Then we could be one of the best rebounding teams not only in the conference, but in the nation. “

The Colonials were also given 30 attempts at the free throw line Tuesday night, and even though the team went 63.3 from the charity stripe, Savage and Garino were able to combine for 16 of the team’s 19 points from the area.

“I really like our team. I think we have some weaknesses that we’ve got to do a better job of hiding, but we just have to stay focused,” Lonergan said. “[St. Joseph’s] is dying for a quality win, and we’ve got to go in there, take advantage of the opportunity and start off 1-0 in the conference.”

GW begins conference play Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia against reigning Atlantic 10 champion St. Joe’s at 2 p.m.

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