A sellout crowd of 4,874 screaming GW fans. Expected.
Twenty-one turnovers against the fast and aggressive “Havoc” defense. Expected.
A 76-66 win over VCU – the preseason pick to win the Atlantic 10 conference. Incredible.
Thanks to career performances from sophomores Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino, the Colonials grabbed the upset win, solidifying their position as a true contender in the A-10, while improving to 9-0 at home on the season.
“It’s a special win for us because one of our goals was to go undefeated at home, and I told the guys we can reach all our goals if we go undefeated at home and this is a big game for us,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.
Tonight, a sold out Smith Center crowd got to witness the Kevin Larsen that Lonergan has been waiting to see since he brought him here two years ago.
After scoring 17 points in the first half Tuesday, going 7-8 from the field and tying his career high, Larsen would continue to break down the VCU (13-4) frontcourt. He set the tone for the game, Lonergan said, hustling up and down the floor to help break the VCU press – something Lonergan said would be crucial heading into the game. The 6-foot-10 sophomore visibly outmuscled VCU defenders, leading to easy looks at the basket.
“I wanted to get revenge from last year,” Larsen said. “Juvante Reddic had 23 [points] and 10 [rebounds] on me last year so I was kind of looking forward to this matchup and just trying to give him my best and it worked out well for me.”
Larsen led an inside attack that, besides three GW free throws, scored the first 17 points of the game for the Colonials. The highly-touted VCU defense looked almost invisible after their press was broken, and GW made them pay, as they went on to outscore the Rams 40-28 in the paint.
The Colonials first field goal outside the paint wouldn’t come until 8:55 left to play in the half – a three-point field goal by Garino.
“You know he broke his finger and he’s had a lot of setbacks, so it was really special to see him hit some threes when we needed to hit threes,” Lonergan said. “Other guys have been struggling for a while, so I’ve always felt that if he can get that jumper going, he’s going to be a pro.”
After a three from VCU’s Rob Brandenburg to answer with 7:35 to play in the first, GW would embark on a 16-4 run to go into the half with a seven-point lead, something Lonergan said he was both surprised and happy about.
Garino would keep things rolling for GW in the second half, scoring 14 points of his career-high 25 points over the last 20 minutes. After the game VCU head coach Shaka Smart called Garino the “sparkplug” off the bench for the Colonials.
One of the big questions entering Tuesday’s game was how Lonergan would handle the VCU defense, which leads the nation in steals per game and has the highest turnover margin in the A-10. Despite turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, the Colonials found ways to consistently break the VCU press, mostly with long cross-court passes and multiple options at half court.
The ability to get the ball up court quickly led to lots of good scoring opportunities for the Colonials – a big factor in the team’s 56 percent shooting from the field, compared to just 36.8 percent for VCU.
“We knew we were going to have turnovers during the game, its nothing new, we just kept playing, we don’t think about the past play, we just keep going and keep fighting,” Garino said.
Instead of bringing up the ball with sophomore point guard Joe McDonald, who was guarded by the nation’s leader in steals, Briante Weber, Lonergan handed the ball to sophomore Kethan Savage who would only turn the ball over twice in the first half. Weber would record just a single steal in the entire half.
GW may have been able to open the game up more in the first half had the Rams not shot so well from behind the arc. The VCU shooters started extremely hot, going 6-8 from three in the first half, sometimes crushing the spirits of the GW defense that fought hard all night. The Colonials would have to wait until the second half to expand their lead, as VCU missed seven-straight threes to open up the second.
Eventually going 3-16 in the second half from beyond the arc, the Rams moved to attacking the inside, and did so successfully, after senior Isaiah Armwood had to sit with four fouls. The Rams showed plenty of fight down the stretch, forcing 11 second-half turnovers and cutting GW’s lead to four, but unlike Colonials teams of the past, GW was able to hold onto their lead and make clutch play after clutch play to close it out.
GW would outrebound the Rams 45-29 on the night, led by a 11-point, 14-rebound night by senior forward Isaiah Armwood.
GW will head to New York on Saturday where they will play St. Bonaventure.