There was no return of sophomore guard Kethan Savage Friday night, but there was the return of another missing Colonial.
Senior forward Nemanja Mikic.
The Serbia native. The three-point specialist that had been on one of head coach Mike Lonergan’s milk cartons for some time. The lone holdover from the Karl Hobbs era playing in his final Atlantic 10 Tournament.
In just 12 minutes of play, Mikic would drop 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting – his most points since GW’s win over Rutgers on Dec. 4.
The forward’s three treys and even his three rebounds were the most since the Colonials’ Feb. 5 victory over Duquesne.
What better way for the senior to begin the end to his Colonial career.
“It’s terrific, what else can you look for. This whole season has been great – 24th win,” Mikic said. “We are looking forward to the game tomorrow against VCU. We won one, we lost one, we feel like we owe them, so it’s exciting.”
In crunch time as the regular season came to a close, Mikic was ice cold. Over the last four games, the forward had made just one shot, while going 0-8 from beyond the arc. His points per game average was down to 4.4, as he missed wide open shot after wide open shot.
But Friday, Mikic couldn’t stop calling for the ball. His hand could be seen high in the air as GW ran down the court, and with each made basket, a fist pump to celebrate what once was lost.
“I just told him – maybe it’s not the right thing to do – I said, ‘what I remember from last season is you hit inside the backboard with a three late in the game,’” Lonergan said. “It’s not too late to turn things around.”
Lonergan certainly couldn’t plan for Mikic to get hot, but he certainly couldn’t deny it either once the shots started falling.
The A-10 All-Academic team member was so hot, that Lonergan was doing offense for defense substitutions with him in the first half’s final minutes. So hot, that his number was getting called on set plays and UMass defenders began falling for his pump-fakes.
“He’s a good player,” UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said. “He gives them another weapon and as you can see, when you can make some three pointers, that loosens things up and opens the game up for them.”
Led by Mikic’s hot hand, the Colonials went off for one of their best shooting nights of the season. GW’s 50 percent shooting from the field – its best in seven games – and 42.9 percent from three-point range silenced the Minutemen as they tried to climb back into contention.
“We’ve known he’s been a great shooter for a long time, but that nine points in the first half, actually, that kind of propelled them and gave them some confidence. I thought we were guarding them pretty well and that they were actually running things for him was pretty surprising.”
Mikic’s three treys boost his career total to 185, good enough for fifth all-time in GW program history. His presence on the perimeter couldn’t come at a better time for GW, and as Lonergan said, couldn’t feel better for the four-year Colonial.
GW will need another strong performance from Mikic off the bench Saturday if they wish to win the grudge match against VCU and continue its journey to an A-10 title.
“Seniors step up this time of year and it was a really good three games coming into today,” Lonergan said. “And to see a senior, really just a smile on his face after the game, makes you feel really good. But it’s a seniors’ time of year right now and we need our seniors to step up.”