GW had nothing left in the tank.
After trailing the No. 23 team in the country by just two at halftime, shots stopped falling for the Colonials as VCU stayed hot on its way to a 74-55 victory.
GW will now have to wait until 6 p.m. Sunday to find out its fate in the NCAA Tournament. In ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket, the Colonials were picked as a No. 7 seed, taking on No. 8 Pittsburgh in Buffalo, N.Y.
“Disappointed with the loss. I thought it was a pretty good game for about two-thirds of the game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I think Nemanja [Mikic] hit a shot with 7:43 left and then after that we just struggled to score.”
The Colonials played the first six minutes without turning the ball over a single time. VCU’s pressure would not change, but the Colonials lost their ability to hold on to the ball. In the final 14 minutes of the half GW turned the ball over 11 times, mostly coming by way of errant and telegraphed passes. The Colonials ended the game with 15 turnovers off nine Ram steals.
GW handled the pressure of VCU’s press early on the game, though, best illustrated by the Colonials first possession of the game. Three crisp passes, first from sophomore Joe McDonald to graduate student Maurice Creek and then to a running Kevin Larsen led to a two-handed slam for senior Isaiah Armwood.
Armwood proved the spark for the Colonials early on, but as it did for the rest of GW, fatigue took its toll as the game progressed. In the first four minutes of the game, the senior scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds, appearing very comfortable in the paint and attacking VCU’s frontcourt on every possession.
“Early in the game we made all the right plays,” Armwood said. “It was the turning point in the game where it wasn’t necessarily them making us turn the ball over, we had some uncharacteristic turnovers that let them take the lead going into halftime and it continued in the second half.”
Senior Nemanja Mikic complemented Armwood’s first-half scoring. For the second straight game, Mikic became GW’s three-point threat, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half to finish with 12 points in 16 minutes of play.
Struggling in the first half was Larsen, who had the added responsibility of being ball handler in the absence of Kethan Savage. Larsen turned the ball over five times in the half, but came alive in the second, scoring four straight points for GW to finish with 10.
VCU was led by junior forward Treveon Graham, who despite early foul trouble, still led the Rams with eight points at the half. Graham’s damage would be done in the second half, however, as he scored seven points in the first five minutes – just the beginning of a scoring tear that led to 22 points and four assists.
The Rams as a whole picked up their offense in the second half, seeming to heat up as the Colonials legs grew tired. After shooting 39.4 percent in the first half, VCU shot 56.5 percent in the second half, opening the half 5-for-6 from the field. Junior Briante Weber ran a fluid offense for the Rams, dishing out a game-high eight assists, while scoring 16 points.
The Colonials fought hard to stick with the Rams, but were ultimately unable to match the production and energy of VCU’s scorers. The Colonials limited their second half turnovers to four, but would only shoot 7-for-21 from the field, struggling to find open looks and convert attempts.
VCU’s success would also be found in their ability to out-rebound GW in the second half. After ending the first half tied at 17, VCU ultimately outrebounded the Colonials 37-28, leading to 12 second-chance points.
“If you can outrebound GW by nine, that’s a heck of a feat,” head coach Shaka Smart said.
GW would also miss the production of McDonald and sophomore Patricio Garino, who combined for just nine points Saturday. Garino went scoreless in the first half and after a small offensive run in the second, would go silent for the Colonials finishing with six points on 2-of-9 shooting.
McDonald also struggled to shoot the ball, making just one field goal in the game. McDonald’s role Saturday was as primary ball handler, in which he did a more than exceptional job, but his beat-up body would take one too many hits as he left the game with 5:28 left to play after tweaking his ankle. McDonald returned for a short stint a couple minutes later, but would exit the game for good, fouling out of the game with 3:03 left to play.
“It might have been his ankle, which I felt good about since it wasn’t his hip,” Lonergan said. “I knew it would be tough, but he’s a warrior, he plays so hard and I didn’t have a lot of choices as you can see. Give VCU credit, they wore him out and wore all our team out, but hopefully he’ll be back by NCAA’s.”
Sophomore Kethan Savage made his first appearance since Jan. 18 after fracturing his foot against St. Bonaventure, but unfortunately, it was short lived as he played only one minute.
“He cut and he felt some soreness. I think he told the trainers to have me take him right out, so it was tough,” Lonergan said. “I feel bad, I’m hoping he’s alright and maybe a few more days.”