DAYTON, Ohio — Playing essentially with a seven-man roster Saturday, head coach Mike Lonergan found himself with a problem he’s never had in his more than 21 years of coaching.
“I’ve coached a long time,” Lonergan said, “but I’ve never been a situation with three guys [out]. Injuries are a part of the game, but it’s tough.”
Those three guys – sophomore Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald and graduate transfer Maurice Creek – have been part of GW’s lifeblood all season. The rest of the squad could not resuscitate a cold-shooting GW squad in the 75-65 loss to Dayton.
The team knew the injured Savage and McDonald would be out against its conference foe, but the news kept getting worse when “stomach issues” prevented Creek from suiting up, Lonergan said. He would spend the day in the hospital getting tests.
“Give Dayton credit, they made their free throws and their open threes,” Lonergan said. “But we battled. Our big guys I thought were very good, we just didn’t have enough guys hit shots from the perimeter.”
Dayton would shoot a staggering 85.7 percent from the line, going 15-16 from the charity stripe in the second half alone.
With a severely shortened bench, Lonergan was forced to put players into positions they had yet to play all season. Patricio Garino bringing the ball up at the point, Isaiah Armwood out on the wing on defense and shooting threes on offense, and then Nemanja Mikic played all 20 minutes of the first half.
Garino, Armwood and sophomore Kevin Larsen would put their team on their backs – scoring a combined 52 points – but the weight of injuries proved too much to carry.
Armwood and Larsen would finish with double-doubles, while Garino would also put up 19, going 3-5 from behind the arc.
“With those guys missing, it hurt us, but it’s definitely no excuse for us to have lost,” Armwood said.
Forced to run the offense through his big men, Lonergan did his best to get them touches right from the start. They responded well to the challenge, but as the Flyers’ defense began to adjust, the offensive explosiveness disappeared.
The role players for GW just couldn’t get on the same level. Mikic would play a season-high 36 minutes on the day, but was only able to drop in three points on 1-8 shooting. Freshman point guard Miguel Cartagena also played his most minutes of the season, getting the start after Creek’s late scratch. He did his part as a facilitator, dishing out seven assists to just one turnover, but he just couldn’t get any of his own shots to fall, going 2-8 from the field.
Mikic had a chance with about seven minutes left in the game to cut the Flyers’ lead to six, but his shot would clank off iron. It was a growing trend Saturday – the Colonials able to dig deep and get within 10 or 11 points, but unable to hit the big shot to get themselves over the hump.
“We made some mental errors that we could control, as far as free throws and guys blowing past us on the defensive end, but our fight was unbelievable,” Armwood said.
Dayton’s seniors – Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford – stepped up, relentlessly fighting to get their team off a four-game losing skid. Oliver – who came in leading the team in points, rebounds and steals – once again led the team with 17 points and nine boards, while Sanford added 13 points from off the bench.
Fueled by Sanford, Dayton’s bench would outscore the shortened GW bench 20-6.
On offense, the Flyers were able to do what few opponents have done all year: beat the 1-3-1 defense. But with some quick ball movement and hot shooters on the perimeter, the empty spots that the 1-3-1 inherently leaves open were exploited.
Additionally, Dayton came in as the best three-point shooting team in the A-10, and they lived up to that ranking Saturday, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc and draining nine threes. Oliver got going very early, dropping in back-to-back threes within the first five minutes to give his team a seven-point lead.
GW would win the battle on the boards, 35-32, and in points scored in the paint, 30-20, but, behind their 13,321 fans, the Flyers would win the war.
“Like I told the guys before the game, this game’s not going to define our season, whether we win or lose, we’re in great shape and we just have to get healthy and get better,” Lonergan said.
The Colonials return to the Smith Center Wednesday at 7 p.m., where they will try to extend their perfect 10-0 home record against Duquesne.
This post was updated Feb. 1 at 6:04 p.m. to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Dayton went 15-15 from the free throw line in the second half The team went 15-16.