"Next man up:" Shallow, but talented, roster to make up for missing pieces

by Nick Ong and Sean Hurd | Sports Editors

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Cameron Lancaster | Assistant Photo Editor
Guard Kethan Savage sits on the sidelines last month against George Mason. Savage is out for at least the regular season with a foot injury.

DAYTON, Ohio -- In Saturday’s 75-65 loss to Dayton, the men’s basketball team looked like a shell of itself.

The Colonials – who have made themselves into serious NCAA Tournament contenders – looked hollow without three injured or sick starters: sophomores Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald and graduate transfer Maurice Creek.

Those three had combined for 35.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists, per game.

"I've coached a long time, but I've never been a situation with three guys [out]," head coach Mike Lonergan said after the Dayton game. "Injuries are a part of the game, but it's tough."

But, with Savage out for at least the rest of the regular season, and the statuses of McDonald and Creek still unknown, head coach Mike Lonergan must decide who will be the "next man up," as he likes to say.

Here’s how the Colonials have and will likely continue to fill the voids as they take on Duquesne and Fordham at home this week:

MISSING: Game manager (McDonald)

FILLING IN: Freshman Miguel Cartagena and Maurice Creek

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo Cameron Lancaster | Contributing Photo Editor
Freshman Miguel Cartagena will need to help fill the role of on-court general in Joe McDonald's absence.

ARE THEY SUCCEEDING?: For the second half of the La Salle game last week, this didn’t seem like a problem. Creek took control of the point for the majority of playing time and the offense continued to find its rhythm. With Creek out against Dayton, though, Cartagena got the start – the first of his young collegiate career.

On paper, he did his job by staying out of foul trouble and dishing out seven assists to just one turnover. But many of those assists came thanks to strong moves from big men on the latter half of the play, and none came in transition.

On GW’s last play to close the half, with just under 9 seconds left on the clock, Cartagena casually took the ball up the court, even looking back to the bench for a play instead of urgently attacking to attempt the final shot at the half. Finally, after screams from his teammates, he chucked up a 40-foot air ball to the sound of the buzzer.

For his first start of the year, Cartagena carried his own, but still has plenty of room for improvement during those critical, instinctual moments of the game where he has to do more than run a play.

MISSING: Quick, aggressive defenders (Savage, McDonald)

FILLING IN: Senior Nemanja Mikic and sophomore Patricio Garino

Media Credit: Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor
Nemanja Mikic passes the ball inside against Rutgers earlier this season.

ARE THEY SUCCEEDING?: Lonergan has stuck mainly with two defenses this year: man-to-man and the 1-3-1. Both have succeeded because of players' speed and length, covering a large chunk of space in a very quick amount of time. Along the perimeter and out on the wings, Savage and McDonald were the team’s best, ranking first and second, respectively, in steals.

The Flyers exploited their absence Saturday, overpowering the 1-3-1. Even with Garino up top – where he usually plays in the zone – GW couldn’t force any turnovers, ending the game with just one steal. Dayton moved the ball around the court with ease, keeping the Colonials off balance with quick passes that led to easy, uncontested lay-ins. Mikic – and even Armwood at times – struggled to rotate quick enough on the wing. Dayton would end the game with 18 assists.

“It didn’t really feel uncomfortable at all,” Armwood said. “Coach Lonergan told me before the game, I might have to go out there and play some wing because we were limited on our numbers, so I just had to go out there and do the best that I could.”

MISSING: Second go-to scorer (Savage)

FILLING IN: Kevin Larsen

Media Credit: Cameron Lancaster | Assistant Photo Editor
Forward Kevin Larsen scored 22 points against VCU earlier this season.

ARE THEY SUCCEEDING?: The short answer here is yes, absolutely yes. Behind Creek – when he gets back – and now beside Garino, Larsen has been the team’s surefire offensive threat.

“Kevin has come into his own lately. Last year, it would be up and down, up and down, you don’t see that anymore this year,” Armwood said. “So he’s grown up a lot, and he’s basically our best scorer we have in the post, so we’re gonna keep going to him until the season’s over.”

In GW’s past six games, Larsen has averaged double figures in scoring, scoring no less than 14 points in each of those six games, while also improving his rebound average to 6.5 per game in that stretch. Since the Jan 11. game against Rhode Island, Larsen has been shooting 67.8 percent from the field.

On Saturday against Dayton, Larsen scored the first six GW points as the team struggled to find an outside presence. Larsen would finish the game with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

BOTTOM LINE:

The Colonials have proven their resilience this season and have not lost consecutive games all year. In addition, the Colonials will be playing their next two games at home, where they are an undefeated 10-0. GW will play the bottom two teams in the Atlantic 10 in Duquesne on Wednesday (10-10, 2-5) and Fordham (9-12, 2-6) Saturday, giving GW an opportunity to shape their identity without key players before a tough stretch that features VCU, UMass and Saint Louis.

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