On Senior Night, the Colonials punched their ticket to the big dance.
The five-point victory over Saint Joseph’s was far from the prettiest game GW has played all year, but it was one of the most memorable in an already memorable season.
The Foggy Bottom faithful got their last chance to witness an Isaiah Armwood double-double and a Maurice Creek 20-point performance—regularities that are underappreciated because of their frequency.
Though a smiling Creek held a large cardboard cutout of his own smiling face at the victorious postgame press conference, victory was far from certain for much of the second half.
With just over 10 minutes to play in the game, GW’s 14-point first-half lead had faded to a distant memory. The Colonials found themselves down eight points and in danger of becoming one of the dreaded “on the bubble” teams for the NCAA Tournament.
But once again, head coach Mike Lonergan’s squad proved that they are not the Colonials of season’s past and didn’t let their late-first-half falter become a game-costing tumble.
To overcome the deficit, GW mapped out an offensive gameplan: create open space for shooters by exploiting Saint Joseph’s when they went to double-team the Colonials’ big men in the post.
It worked. Guard Joe McDonald fed the ball to forward Kevin Larsen, who would take on the double-team and find a teammate cutting to the basket or an open player on the perimeter for a jumper.
With good spacing and timely ball movement, guard Patricio Garino scored 10 of his 17 points down the stretch and GW knocked down a trio of three pointers, all on Larsen’s assists.
But GW slammed the door shut not through ball movement, but on tough shots by one of the toughest players in college basketball: Joe McDonald.
The play was McDonald personified. With the shot clock winding down and GW holding on to a five-point edge, McDonald drove to the middle of the paint and nailed a jumper with his defender draped all over him.
McDonald finished the game with 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting – 4-for-6 from behind the arc – and added four assists and six rebounds.
The sophomore from Lorton, Va. has proven that he has plenty of moxie. Battling a hip injury all season, McDonald hasn’t stopped driving to the basket, absorbing contact and falling hard to the floor. And despite every fall resulting in a tremendous thud, McDonald remains a scoring respite for the Colonials when they need a basket.
After the loss at Saint Louis, Lonergan said of the Colonials: “We’ve got to get our swagger back.” With back-to-back wins under its belt, the team has gotten a bit more of that early season pep in their step.
And speaking of steps, injured guard Kethan Savage was walking around the Smith Center Wednesday night without the aid of crutches, and had cast or boot on his broken foot. The Colonials have seven days before the Atlantic 10 Tournament and a healthy Savage would be a huge boost for an already confident squad.
The hard part of the end of the season is over for the Colonials. A six-game stretch that saw GW face the top four teams in the conference has come to a 3-3 close. With bottom feeder Fordham on Saturday, confidence can multiply.
This win is another one for Colonials fans to savor. Early season hopes of a return to basketball relevancy have been exceeded and the faith of many has been rewarded.
GW is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
Ben Krimmel, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.