After taking third place at the Wooden Legacy Tournament and knocking off then-No. 20 Creighton, the men’s basketball team had to prove its success was more than just a fluke.
Five Colonials scored in double figures against Rutgers on Wednesday, making the difference in a solid 93-87 win that brought GW’s record to 7-1 – the Colonials’ best start in eight years.
This wasn’t the kind of upset that GW reveled in last weekend, but Wednesday’s shocker was the way GW won. This time, it wasn’t the Colonials’ defense that carried them to victory.
From the opening tip, Rutgers adopted a fast-paced, up-tempo game, and found success against a GW defense caught off guard. The Scarlet Knights, through the first eight minutes of play, shot 72.7 percent and were led by junior guard Mack Myles and junior forward Kadeem Jack. The pair shot a combined 7-7 from the field.
Head coach Mike Lonergan said that his ballclub didn’t execute the game plan of stopping Mack early, forcing him to change GW’s defensive strategy to keep Rutgers at bay. As a team, Rutgers shot 56.5 percent in the first half.
“I knew Rutgers would be ready to play, they really needed a win,” Lonergan said. “They shot the heck out of the ball and I give them credit.”
The Colonials would trail by as much as six points in the first half, but stayed close with the Knights, waiting for an opportunity to take control. To do so, GW buckled down defensively, keeping Rutgers out of the paint, and forcing the Knights to change tempo to a half-court game. GW would go on an 8-0 run to take the lead with five minutes to play in the first half, and a 38-36 lead into the break.
Despite being outscored 20-8 in the paint in the first half, the Knights were still shooting the lights out from beyond the arc. They made 13 of 27 three-point attempts Wednesday night, five three-pointers coming off the hands of Mack, who led the Big East last year in three-point shooting percentage.
But GW’s ability to control the paint, both offensively and defensively, slowly ate away at a Rutgers offense whose success so far this season has been carried by their frontcourt. The Colonials were able to draw the Knights’ frontcourt into foul trouble, allowing senior forward Isaiah Armwood to take advantage.
“In the second half, coach made an emphasis to get the ball inside,” Armwood said.
GW would outscore Rutgers 40-22 in the paint and out-rebound the Knights 35-29, led by a 20-point, nine-rebound performance from Armwood.
Despite allowing Rutgers to shoot 50.8 percent for the game, Lonergan said that his team was able to keep the momentum and stay ahead by finding an outside shot of their own, something that Lonergan said his team had been unable to do in years past.
“Defense has been our trademark, and today we didn’t have it,” Lonergan said. “Last year we couldn’t overcome a night when the other team shot 51 percent, but now we have some scoring. I think we have five guys out there who can score now, and that’s a huge benefit to our team.
With Rutgers threatening and the GW lead at four, senior Nemanja Mikic nailed a trio of three-point field goals in just over two minutes of play, sending the Smith Center into a frenzy. Mikic would finish with 14 points off the bench, while starters Maurice Creek and Kethan Savage would both put up 18 points of their own.
Another bright spot for the Colonials came from another solid performance from sophomore Joe McDonald, who continues to improve as the season progresses. McDonald finished with six points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but had his night cut short after an intentional foul by Rutgers’ freshman Junior Etou took him out of the game.
“We’re happy with where we are,” Lonergan said. “We have a long way to go that’s for sure but I like our team, I think they really like each other, I think we have good chemistry and we’ve got some good games coming up.”
GW will face another tough matchup with Maryland in the annual BB&T classic Sunday at 3:30 at the Verizon Center.