On a night when their opponent was missing their most commanding inside player, it was the Colonials’ backcourt that drove the team to a 17-point victory.
GW’s starting guards, Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage, both finished in double digits in scoring as the Colonials topped Rutgers on the road 70-53. Together, they scored 33 points in a combined 66 minutes.
Savage led the duo with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists for his first career double-double, which head coach Mike Lonergan said fueled his team off the boards.
“I was kind of proud of Kethan because I think our team gets sick of me talking about how great of a rebounder Joe is,” Lonergan said. “Kethan had 11 rebounds tonight. That’s pretty impressive and it’s contagious, just like our free throw shooting last year. One guy really rebounds and everyone wants to rebound.”
The Scarlet Knights went without starting forward Kadeem Jack, who was out after an injured thumb reacted poorly to practicing on Thursday.
Rutgers still stayed closer to GW in the paint than in the game as a whole, with the Colonials controlling the inside scoring just 34-28.
While the outside game shone, all 6-feet, 10-inches and 260 pounds of Kevin Larsen seemed to go missing. The usually dominant post presence was stifled, seeing limited touches for a cornerstone player who had the most minutes of any Colonial with 37. He scored seven points and just one of his baskets was assisted.
Lonergan said Larsen needed to get open more and that he thought the offense was trying to feed him but could not. Larsen was the target on the first play of the game, but John Kopriva got called for an illegal screen.
“I thought Rutgers did a good job really keeping us from scoring inside. That was what our game plan was especially with Jack out,” Lonergan said. “We thought we could get the ball inside, and they really did a good job fronting Kevin and keeping him from getting a lot of touches.”
GW controlled the rebounding game 45-37, but it was the scrambling guards who made it happen off the boards.
McDonald ranged for nine boards during the game, showing the kind of athleticism and drive that was muffled last year at times when he played through injury.
“[Joe] averaged 11 rebounds a game in high school, and before I saw him play a lot I was like, ‘Wow, is that really true?'” Lonergan said. “But he can rebound … he’s not really supposed to crash the offensive boards at all, but somehow he gets in there and mixes it up.”
Savage, too, was a star at rebounding: Of his game-high 11, three came off the offensive boards.
Off the bench, Nick Griffin contributed around the perimeter, splashing in two buckets from downtown.
The only player off the bench to top Griffin’s production, Yuta Watanabe, did most of his scoring from outside as well, scoring six of his eight points via two three pointers in four attempts.
“[Nick and Yuta] are actually two of our best shooters,” Lonergan said. “Usually we’ll knock them down a little bit better, we were 6-for-21, but if you take those, Nick and Yuta, away we only made 2-for-13. So hopefully those will go down.”
With a game against No. 9 Virginia coming on Friday, the Colonials will need versatility outside to keep pace with the sharp-shooting Cavaliers and their star guard Justin Anderson, Larsen’s former Montrose Christian classmate.
But absent easy layups, shooting cannot go cold. For both teams, it seemed there was a lid on the basket in the first half of the Rutgers game: GW shot just over 33, though they were still a full 12 points better than Rutgers’ 20.7.
Again, though, Savage was 6-12 and McDonald 6-13. Shots falling at a near 50 percent clip would go miles to help GW keep pace with a top offense like Virginia’s. And the early rebounding numbers from the backcourt have to be encouraging for a team that referenced rebounding “by committee” many times before the season.
“We know we lost Isaiah [Armwood] and he’s our best rebounder last year, so we didn’t want to put it all on one person like Kevin to try and make up for Isaiah,” McDonald said. “But we want to do it as a team, so you’ll see a lot more rebounding between me, Savage and Patricio.”