Brooklyn, N.Y. – For the first time since 2007, the men’s basketball team will get to play a second game in the Atlantic 10 Championship.
After being eliminated by Massachusetts in last season’s A-10 opening round and suffering its lone home loss of the year to the Minutemen, GW finally came out on top, winning 85-77 in Friday’s A-10 quarterfinal matchup.
Six Colonials scored in double figures, thanks to 50.8 percent shooting from the field – its highest in seven games. GW will take on VCU for the third time this season in Saturday’s semifinal matchup at 4 p.m.
“It’s a good feeling,” senior Isaiah Armwood said. “We’ve got six players in double figures scoring. We score a couple times and they came back and cut it down to maybe eight, so we wanted to keep stretching the lead. So it’s definitely a good feeling moving on to the next round.”
The Colonial shooters were electric in the first half, going 15-30 from the field, while being led by senior Nemanja Mikic and sophomore Joe McDonald. McDonald scored five of the first seven points for GW and would finish with twelve points on the night. The point guard would add seven assists to just one turnover, over a game-high 37 minutes of playing time.
GW found the open man all game long, posting 18 assists on its 30 made field goals.
Graduate student Maurice Creek would struggle in the first half, missing all five of his shot attempts, but for the first time in recent games, was saved by the bench. By the end of the first half, GW’s bench had scored 14 points, mainly from the three-point presence of Mikic.
Mikic went 3-5 from beyond the arc, draining all three of his treys in the first half. As a team, GW would go 6-12 from beyond the arc for the game and the bench would end the contest with 19 points.
“I think lately, the last couple games, Maurice Creek has really been hitting those shots and I’ve been pretty much got a lot of open shots lately,” Mikic said. “They didn’t go in the last couple of games but coach, the team believed in me, passed me the ball when I was open and they dropped down tonight.”
Besides its hot shooting, GW won the battle with its defense. The Colonials went after every loose ball, trapped the Minutemen in the corners and pressured the UMass ball handlers. GW would force five turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game and finish the night with 19 takeaways.
The Minutemen were led by junior Maxie Esho and senior Chaz Williams, who came alive for the Minutemen in the second half. Esho, who was instrumental in UMass’ comeback against URI Thursday, would go 7-11 from the field and finish with a game-high 22 points. Williams would score 16 of his 19 points in the second half, trying to will his team back into the game as his teammates shots kept clanking off the rim. Lonergan would describe Esho as a “handful” and added that Williams’ quickness was hard to control.
UMass cut the 12-point GW lead to four in the closing seconds of the first half, but a 5-0 stretch over just four seconds of play, off a corner three from freshman Nick Griffin and a lay in by Armwood, got the lead back up to nine, 40-31.
“What was difficult honestly was the end of the first half – it drew me to insanity actually,” UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said. “It was not fun in the locker room, because we cut it to four, the flow of the game was our way, I thought we had them right kind of where we wanted them. A couple of non smart basketball plays gave them the momentum going into halftime.”
GW extended its lead in the second half and continued its success shooting the ball. The Colonials shot 51.7 percent in the second half, led by 10 points from sophomore Patricio Garino and nine from Creek after missing his first eight shots. GW would lead by as many as 18 points.
Despite their success, the Colonials began to unravel with sloppy turnovers, committing 17 turnovers on eight UMass steals. The Minutemen began to press the Colonials backcourt, leading to seven turnovers by the GW guards and a slow comeback.
As expected, UMass crept back into the game, and as expected their push would be led by Williams. After not scoring for the first nine minutes of the second half, Williams would score 16 points on a combination of quick attacks through the lane and timely threes.
Even as the lead got down to single digits late, the more mature Colonials remained confident and handled the pressure. There would be no hands in towels this time around – instead, a grudge match with the Rams to decide a berth in the A-10 finals.