The Colonials just couldn’t seem to cut their deficit to single digits.
And the team just couldn’t find its way out of the hole it dug itself into early on. At one point in the second half, Bradley had a 19-point lead; Tuesday night’s result seemed set in stone.
But freshman forward Patricio Garino – who’s made a name for himself as the go-to player late in games this season – had a different idea. Eleven straight points from Garino, including a tomahawk dunk and arching trey, cut the Braves’ lead to four.
That was as close the Colonials (4-4) would come, and the team was ultimately unable to complete the rally en route to a 72-68 loss.
“To be down 19 on the road is just really a lot to overcome,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We had some guys struggle tonight. Our intensity level, for whatever reason, wasn’t there early, but it was there in the second half.”
The first half exhibited the frustrating play that’s becoming a pattern for the Colonials. Facing a Bradley's zone defense, GW struggled to control the ball, turning it over 12 times on the half. It was a pattern that would repeat itself over the rest of the game. Despite heating up offensively in the second, GW continued to turn the ball over, marking 23 turnovers total.
It gave the Braves 24 points off of turnovers, keeping the Colonials from establishing a smooth offensive rhythm. It lead to a 14-5 fast break advantage for the Braves and helped Bradley keep the Colonials at arm’s length for the full 40 minutes.
“We were a little weak with the ball,” Lonergan said. “Not only were we turning the ball over, it was leading to dunks and layups by Bradley. So it was tough. It was frustrating. And we really just did not have the energy, and they came out ready to play and we just got down.”
Adding to GW’s frustrations was the way Bradley packed its zone, concentrating most of its pressure down low and limiting the Colonial bigs' effectiveness. The team shot just 32 percent on the first half, including 16.7 percent shooting from three-point range. It became hard for the Colonials to maintain their composure as desperation set in.
The Braves even bested GW in points in the paint, 46-28, a telling sign of low production for a Colonial team that tends to glean most of its points in the post. GW shot 47.1 on the game, the final number aided by its second-half push.
“They were playing really aggressive on us. We were trying to get the ball inside and we couldn’t. Truthfully, we were just turning the ball over,” Lonergan said.
The team’s struggles aside, it was a career night for Garino, who finished the game with a career-high 24 points and six rebounds. He was joined in double-digits by senior forward Isaiah Armwood, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds and sophomore forward John Kopriva, who added 11 points.
GW played with greater energy and hustle in the second half, exemplified by Garino’s personal push. But the halftime deficit proved too great.
“Offensively, I thought [Garino] was really terrific. Especially in the second half, he had 18 points and it willed us back into the game. He just kind of took over for us,” Lonergan said. “Him and Isaiah, some of those guys really got after it and allowed us to almost get all the way back into the game.”
At first, it looked as if the Colonials’ defense would keep them in the game, as it did against Manhattan. GW was able to keep the game relatively close through the beginning of the first half, trying to give its offense time to heat up. But that opportunity never came, and Bradley responded with a significant scoring run to close the first that gave the Braves a decisive 17-point lead at the break.
The Colonials opened the second in a 1-3-1 zone, hoping to shut down Bradley’s hot shooting. But they couldn’t get enough stops to make a conclusive difference, as the Braves closed the game with 50 percent shooting and three players scoring in double figures.
“[The 1-3-1] was really more to try to get our energy going,” Lonergan said. “We were really just trying to get our energy up. [Freshman guard] Joe [McDonald] and Patricio and Isaiah, they did a really good job in the 1-3-1. Because it’s a defense that takes so much energy.”
Fatigue may have played a hand in GW’s performance – the team traveled to Bradley for a Tuesday-night game after a Sunday win over Manhattan. But Lonergan said that the travel and short turn-around weren't major factors in Tuesday night’s loss, and that the team will return to Foggy Bottom determined to prepare for its next big test.
“I don’t think that had anything to do with it,” Lonergan said. “We were prepared, and I don’t think it was more being tired, it was just them coming out with a lot more energy. Tomorrow, we’ll be off, we have a mandatory day off, and then we’ll really take Thursday and Friday to prepare for a really, really strong Kansas State team.”