The men’s basketball team recorded its fifth-straight win Saturday over UMBC, 74-61, but it certainly won’t be a victory that earns the Colonials any additional votes in the next AP poll.
Against a much weaker UMBC team, GW got away with some mental lapses at the free throw line and a lackluster performance from behind the arc to squeak out the victory and improve to 10-1 on the season – tied for the sixth best start in program history. The last time GW won 10 of its first 11 games was 1992-93.
“It feels great to be 10-1,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’m very happy for our players – they worked very hard since we lost to UMass in the A-10 tournament. I wish we played a little better today going into Christmas, but give UMBC credit, they came out and battled us.”
This may not have been the best team performance by the Colonials, but it certainly gave graduate guard Maurice Creek the chance to show just how much he can carry his team. He scored 17 first-half points, for a total of 22 on the night to lead all scorers. It wasn’t just his smooth shooting from behind the arc – 4-8 shooting from three – that got things done either; Creek showed his ability to get to the basket, rolling off screens and driving through the lane for some tough left-handed lay-ups.
Creek has brought a scoring aspect to this team that has catapulted them to new heights, and as he said, “This team can go as far as we want to go – as far as we want to take us.”
“He’s definitely a proven scorer and he opens things up for us,” Lonergan added.
After Saturday’s performance, it may be time to rename the Colonials’ offense “The Creek and Kethan show.” Although it doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as “Zeek and Creek,” Savage has proven himself as the team’s second, and most explosive, option.
The sophomore guard came alive in the second half, scoring nine points for a total of 15 on the night. He rounded out his stat sheet with seven rebounds and four steals, while shooting 6-9 from the field.
Savage has shown his ability to flourish on the wing and step into the point guard role when needed. His emphatic dunks bring energy to his team, and his knack for forcing turnovers and getting out into the fast break is something you can’t teach.
“I’m just being aggressive. I’m not trying to force anything, I’m just trying to find my game as the game keeps going along,” said Savage, who later added, “I’m playing at the collegiate level for the second year, so I’m seeing things a lot more slowly now, so I’m just picking my spots and be aggressive and get to the rim when I can.”
With two dependable scorers in Creek and Savage, Lonergan has also done his best to give the bench minutes each game – often doing complete platoon swaps within the first ten minutes of each half – but the reserve players have done little to prove they deserve the minutes. That was once again the case today.
Besides five-straight points from freshman Miguel Cartagena in the game’s first 10 minutes, the bench was all but non-existent. They combined for 5-15 shooting in 55 total minutes of play – an increase in playing time after some early foul trouble from sophomore guard Joe McDonald and senior Isaiah Armwood.
Compare that to the 36 bench points for UMBC and Lonergan will need to do what he can to continue to the get his bench minutes and find some production from them.
“That’s definitely our achilles heel right now. We tried to play some guys some extended minutes and they didn’t take advantage of it today unfortunately,” Lonergan said. “So they know they’ve got to go home and re-evaluate things and come back with more energy and enthusiasm than ever.”
Another improvement that Lonergan said he’d like to see his tough 10-1 team make is on defense. Despite holding the Retrievers to just one field goal over the last six minutes of the game, the Colonials defense looked sluggish at times and continued to let UMBC back into the game.
Add that to the abysmal free throw shooting by GW – 48 percent on the day – and the unusual 26 percent shooting from behind the arc, and this 13-point win often appeared much closer than it should have been.
“We’ve got to get better defensively, that was my one worry,” Lonergan said. “We’re scoring all these points and we’re a much better offensive team than we were last year, but we’re not as willing to grind it out defensively and we’ve got to do that to beat the really good teams.”