The men’s basketball team is off to its best start in seven years. What’s gone right?

Media Credit: Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Sophomore Joe McDonald had a career-high nine rebounds, and added nine assists and six points in Wednesday's win against Rutgers.

Media Credit: Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor
Sophomore Joe McDonald had a career-high nine rebounds, and added nine assists and six points in Wednesday’s win against Rutgers.

The men’s basketball team is 7-1.

Yes, you heard that correctly – the Colonials are off to their best start since 2006 and things don’t appear to be slowing down. With the team’s upset win over then-No. 20 Creighton and the 93-87 victory over Rutgers Wednesday.

How? Three big keys that revealed themselves over the most recent wins.

A bigger, badder “Blockness Monster”
Creighton’s All-American Doug McDermott scored a career-low seven points against GW. He looked uncomfortable, out of sync and obviously frustrated. Why? Senior forward Isaiah Armwood. The “Blockness Monster,” as GW fans call him, brought his A-game. He recorded four blocks and scoring 12 points to completely outplay McDermott.

“Isaiah did a great job staying disciplined and staying down on pump fakes and taking advantage of his length and athleticism,” head coach

Facing off against Rutgers’ front court, Armwood helped GW outscore Rutgers 40-22 in the paint, holding the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer, Kadeem Jack, to 12 points. With sophomore forward Patricio Garino – a preseason Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team pick – still playing limited minutes with an injured finger, Armwood fills a huge role.

“So now we know, besides Patricio, we have a lockdown defender at the forward position,” Lonergan said.

McDonald showing sophomore growth
Last year, then-freshman Joe McDonald started all 30 games for the Colonials, but struggled with growing pains. The point guard averaged just 7.5 points per game, while turning the ball over a team-high 89 times.

“Last year, I thought Joe was good – he was solid, but just didn’t want to score, didn’t look to score at all,” Lonergan said.

But with one game-tying lay-up on Thanksgiving Day against Miami, everything changed.

McDonald erupted over the three-game Wooden Legacy tournament, recording double-digit scoring performances in each game and turning the ball over a total of just four times. He followed up that performance with a dazzling display of efficiency against Rutgers, recording nine assists to just two turnovers. He has now turned the ball over just 11 times on the season.

The Colonials now find themselves with a confident ball-handler poised to run the offense and be a threat himself.

“All offseason, I’ve been working on shooting, and again the preseason injury kind of gave a little setback,” McDonald said, “But I’m not gonna lie, that Miami layup definitely gave me a lot of confidence and after that I was just playing.”

The offense needs Kevin Larsen
GW’s upset against Creighton was an all-around team effort, with four players scoring in double figures off of 15 assists. But without the offensive resurgence of sophomore forward Kevin Larsen, the Colonials might have never gotten the bounce-back win they needed.

In the team’s only loss this season to then-No. 25 Marquette, Larsen was all but non-existent. Despite 27 minutes of playing time, the big man scored zero points, while getting shown up for 20 points by Golden Eagle standout Davante Gardner. This followed a similar lackluster performance in the team’s overtime win against Miami, in which he had only four points and four rebounds.

Then, Larsen said he got a bit of a spark: some motivational text messages from his high school coach and encouragement from Lonergan. Larsen dazzled in GW’s offense stretches in the first half against Creighton. He scored eight early points on 4-5 shooting, unwilling to do anything but score once he touched the ball. He would finish the night with a team-high 14 points and six rebounds, leading GW to the upset victory that has given them the recent media buzz.

Although his game against Rutgers will likely not be considered a standout, another double-digit scoring night from Larsen certainly stands as a good indicator that he can continue to be productive.

“Just me being aggressive, not being passive,” Larsen said of the key to his game. “Every time I’m aggressive, I always get a lot of points, a lot of rebounds, so when I’m passive I’m just not doing a lot. So there’s a concerted effort on my part to be aggressive all the time.”

This story was updated Dec. 5, 2013 to reflect the following:

Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Joe McDonald’s layup against Miami was game-winning. It actually tied the game.

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