BOSTON – At the postgame press conference after GW’s 72-59 victory over Boston University, head coach Mike Lonergan sat flanked by senior forward Isaiah Armwood and freshman guard Joe McDonald.
To his left was the rookie point guard who will be trusted with the Colonials’ offense in years to come, a player who gave fans a glimpse of the role he will grow into Saturday. To Lonergan’s right was his senior big man who recorded eight blocks against the Terriers, irreparably disrupting the flow of their offense.
The postgame remarks, much like the 40 minutes of basketball that preceded them, were a glimpse into the rebuilding Colonial roster.
“I thought this was a really, really important game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “There’s no such thing as a ‘must-win’ game – [Washington Redskins head coach] Mike Shanahan got in trouble for saying that a couple of weeks ago – but I thought that was an important game for us.”
The team’s offense clicked against the Terriers, the Colonials exiting the game with a 52.2 shooting percentage and going 20-for-22 at the line, a sign of the team settling into a rhythm. McDonald led all scorers with 21 points, while freshman forward Patricio Garino and senior guard Bryan Bynes were next for GW, with nine apiece. Lonergan pointed out the importance of Bynes’ performance coming off a 1-for-9 game against Youngstown State, adding that the senior guard logged extra time last week, practicing shooting in the gym.
GW's six new recruits brought 42 of the 72 points, a heartening statistic for a coach that plans to bet so much this season on his incoming players. Still, Lonergan said, the Colonials need more production out of their senior members.
“Our freshmen are freshmen, but they’re good. But the key to our season, I’ve always said, are the upperclassmen. We’ve got to do a better job getting a lot more out of them,” Lonergan said.
It was McDonald who appeared to best settle into GW’s game plan Saturday, adding seven rebounds and three assists to his 21 points. His ability to guide the team was clearer than ever before, increasing his communication and direction on the floor.
McDonald credited his increased confidence heading into Saturday's game to the support he receives from his coaches. For Lonergan, it was the point guard he’s expected to see all along after the freshman jitters wore off in GW’s first few contests, especially watching McDonald contain BU freshman guard Maurice Watson, Jr., a fellow PARADE All-America selection.
“Joe’s not the guy I expect to get 21 points from every game, but everybody was sort of questioning him,” Lonergan said. “It’s a tough position to play. He’s a freshman. I have high expectations for him – I’ve never worried about him, never wavered in my confidence in him. He’s a really good player. He’s a big recruit for us.”
It wasn’t a perfect game for the Colonials. After a lights-out first half that saw GW enter the break with a 14-point advantage, BU retook the court with a revamped press defense, one that rattled a young Colonial lineup.
GW had 13 turnovers in the second half, for 18 total, with BU nabbing four steals and using its newfound defensive edge to best the Colonials on points off of turnovers, 14-5. After a few struggles to penetrate the Terriers' zone in the first, GW found itself working to hold onto its confidence and snatch the momentum back from BU in the second.
“I was trying not to go crazy and scream, because it was almost comical. Some of the turnovers were really, really bad. So I just tried to put four guards out there, and that wasn’t working,” Lonergan said. “We just weren’t making cuts hard. We were just kind of walking to the corner, throwing it in and being casual, and [BU’s] down, they’re fighting for their lives.”
The Colonials would have had the game in hand had they done more work on the boards. GW outrebounded BU, but only by five, and though the Colonials boasted a 40-35 overall advantage, including a 34-18 mark in defensive rebounds, the Terriers won a 17-6 victory on the offensive glass.
Armwood paced GW with 12 rebounds, but the team as a whole needs to step it up on the boards, Lonergan said. Many times, possession went to BU because the Colonials failed to box out, a lapse that Lonergan found inexcusable.
“Rebounds are effort, and we have to get some of our guys focused on that part of the game,” Lonergan said. “[Junior forward] Nemanja [Mikic] having three today is huge for us. Last week, he was the only guy on our team that did not get a rebound.”
The rebound battle aside, and despite facing what Lonergan called “a heck of a backcourt,” GW mostly limited BU’s shooting Saturday afternoon. The Colonials held their opponent to 32.4 percent shooting on the game, keeping the Terriers to 7-for-20 from beyond the arc.
The defensive game-changer, Lonergan said, were the eight blocks from Armwood, a career-high for the senior who was easily the biggest man on the court against a small Terrier squad.
“I knew that their big man wasn’t an actual big man,” Armwood said. “So I’d be able to help out on defense a lot, because they’d be trying to get it in the lane and penetrate, because they’re so little.”
The Colonials managed to pick up their first victory of the season and their first road win of the year in one fell swoop, leaving Boston with an extra bit of confidence. It’s a boost that will need to play to GW’s advantage as it continues its road swing at Notre Dame Wednesday, Lonergan said.
“It’s a huge win. I was trying to be really loose today, because looking at our schedule, we lost a tough one to Youngstown State, a good team. I’m not embarrassed by that loss,” Lonergan said. “But with Notre Dame coming up and a young team, we have to get some of these wins. You don’t want to lose confidence.