PHILADELPHIA – Before Thursday’s game, Kethan Savage and Maurice Creek knew what could trip them up against last year’s Sweet 16 Cinderella team La Salle.
Though the Explorers were just 7-6 going into Thursday’s game, Savage and Creek said at practice two days ago that La Salle’s explosive backcourt would pose a major challenge.
They were right – to the tune of 45 combined points and eight three-point baskets from La Salle’s three guards, Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland. That gave the Explorers a 76-72 win in the Atlantic 10 opener.
“We couldn’t contain them,” sophomore Patricio Garino said.
Led by Mills’ 17 points, the Explorers sliced through GW’s 1-3-1 zone defense, which Lonergan went to when forward Kevin Larsen quickly got into foul trouble.
The defense still left La Salle guards with wide open shots even from the start of the game. Though GW knotted up the score at the half, the Colonials mostly played trailed slightly throughout.
“We didn’t make things difficult for them at all,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We struggle with guarding quick guards, and we wanted to change our defenses and none of them really worked.”
“Some players let their lack of offensive production affect their defense,” Lonergan added.
La Salle head coach John Giannini said his guards hit their stride, shooting from 45 percent from three-point range. Duren also contributed not only with 13 points, but also with five assists and no turnovers.
“It was nothing about their defense, they were playing zone a lot and our guards did what good guards should do,” Giannini said.
GW also struggled for the third-straight game from behind its own arc. The Colonials hit only 3-14 from three-point range, while Creek scored eight. Forward Isaiah Armwood and Garino led the team with 15 points each.
GW players threw away passes, missed several easy layups and racked up turnovers early in the game – sloppy play from a team that has shocked the NCAA so far this season with a 12-2 nonconference record.
“We had fumble-itis tonight,” Lonergan said.
Still, the Colonials nearly snatched a victory in the final seconds. With six seconds left, guard Joe McDonald stole an inbound pass and had a chance to tie the game by going for a layup.
But he was whistled for a charge, which replays show was the right call. The Colonials couldn’t mount a comeback to win in the final seconds, which it has been so good at doing so far this year.
GW plays next against Rhode Island (9-7) Saturday at the Smith Center.
“We cant have a hangover from this loss,” Lonergan said.