It was a frustrating night.
With 43 seconds left to play, head coach Mike Lonergan innocently smiled and shrugged his shoulders at sophomore Patricio Garino. Lonergan had been ejected.
Ejected after watching his team go 0-8 from behind the arc in the first half.
Watching the Rams get wide-open looks and drain 13 threes.
Watching his team ultimately fall 92-75 and hand the Rams sole possession of second-place in the Atlantic 10 standings.
It was a frustrating night.
“I deserved that and I apologized to the referees,” said Lonergan, when discussing the second technical foul he received after yelling for a timeout. “We just kept turning the ball over and getting stripped. We had players playing positions that they’re not really used to. So it was just frustration and it was definitely a mistake on my part.”
The Colonials jumped out to an 8-4 advantage in the first five minutes, but wouldn’t hold the lead for much longer. Back-to-back threes from Melvin Johnson tied it at 10. And from there, it got ugly.
The Rams embarked on an 18-2 run fueled by the second foul on sophomore Joe McDonald. Freshman Miguel Cartagena was forced into the game to handle the ball, but two fouls and two turnovers on two consecutive possessions, and he was back on the bench, not to play the rest of the game.
“Our defensive intensity wasn’t there and we got down big,” Lonergan said.
Lonergan would make the smart decision to put Garino and graduate student Maurice Creek in the backcourt to bring up the ball, but in the end, VCU’s defense would get the best of GW.
The Colonials would commit 22 turnovers on 14 VCU steals. The Rams would more than take advantage, scoring 29 points off turnovers, compared to just 13 for GW.
“Our team had two assists and 15 turnovers at halftime,” Lonergan said frankly. “Then in the second half we did a much better job and started hitting some shots, but it [the pressure] tired us out and it was a tough game for us to not get production out of our bench.”
In the half’s closing minutes, GW went on a 10-1 run of their own with a chance to cut the lead to 10, but two Colonials turnovers led to five-straight points for the Rams, giving them a 45-28 halftime lead.
As snow fell outside, cascades of VCU threes poured down inside Siegel Arena on the Colonials. VCU would go 8-14 from beyond the arc in the first half and shoot 52 percent for the game.
Johnson led the barrage, scoring 21 points off the bench, while going 5-8 from three. Treveon Graham would add another three treys, scoring a game-high 25 points, while grabbing 10 boards.
“With the 1-3-1, for whatever reason, we didn’t do a good job of getting out on shooters and we didn’t have enough energy,” Lonergan said. “And give them credit, they made them. And they got some big offensive rebounds and kicked it out and hit some more open threes. So the three-point line really hurt us.”
Stan van Gundy may have put it best, saying, the Colonials Wednesday just needed everyone to be named Larsen and Garino.
Although maybe not his best statistical night, recording a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, sophomore Kevin Larsen was instrumental inbounding the ball and serving as an additional outlet on the press break. Garino, who scored 16 points with four rebounds and five assists, was often the one receiving the inbound pass from Larsen and showed that his recent time at the point was paying off.
With the help of Creek and senior Isaiah Armwood, they would fight back against the Rams in the second half, cutting the lead to as few as five points. Freshman Nick Griffin hit the team’s first three with 15:35 to play and finally shots began to fall, as Creek found his groove from beyond the arc as well.
Creek would finish with the night with 17 points on 6-12 shooting, 4-6 from three. The Colonials would go 6-10 form behind the arc in the second half. Armwood finished with 17 points and seven boards, fouling out with two minutes left to play. The Colonials would shoot 53 percent for the game, exemplary of their strong second half.
Free throws continued to plague GW, though, especially as they got within striking range of the Rams. Missed front ends of one-and-ones ended seemingly positive possessions and gave the ball right back to VCU. The Colonials would go 11-20 on the night from the charity stripe.
“We’ve got to start making free throws. I thought that was huge, when we we’re down five and seven,” Lonergan said. “In the second half, we had players go up there, but we were 3-10 with missed two one-and-ones. When you leave nine points at the line in the second half, that’s really frustrating.”
A slam dunk by Juvonte Reddic with just over a minute to play put an exclamation point on the Rams victory – their 20th of the season and 18th straight at home.
GW will look to bounceback in another big conference game this Saturday, when they face off against Massachusetts, who suffered its third loss in five games Wednesday.