It happened over and over again.
On nearly every GW possession, the crowd cheers grew from a rumble to a roar as the shot clock wound down and the Colonials dribbled around Virginia’s packline defense, unable to penetrate, and turned the ball over or had to settle for a contested jumper.
GW gave the No. 9-ranked Cavaliers a scare at halftime, but as the grind-it-out game went on, the Colonials could not find the basket, taking their first loss of the season 59-42 on the road Friday night.
Head coach Mike Lonergan summed it up simply: “No moral victories. We wanted to play much better. It’s a 40-minute game,” he said.
“It definitely seemed like a whole different team in the second half,” junior point guard Joe McDonald said. “We didn’t respond well to that.”
The Cavaliers, who ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage defense entering the game, saw the Colonials shoot nearly 46 percent in the first half. But in the second half, the 26-22 halftime lead faded away as Virginia’s shooting heated up and GW’s cooled off. The game ended with the Cavaliers shooting over 42 percent from the field, while GW shot under 33 percent in the game.
The packline defense was so airtight at times that it was difficult to imagine how the scuffmarks on the painted area ever got there.
“It kind of wears you down. Shots that you would normally look for and get against other teams, they’re not there,” said junior guard Kethan Savage, who lead GW with 13 points. “They take you out of your stuff and that presented some problems for us.”
In the second half, Virginia started to feed off the paint where they outscored the Colonials 42-24. Though GW out-rebounded the Cavaliers 17-16 in the first half, the game ended with Virginia owning the rebounding edge 41-28.
Every missed shot seemed to turn into an offensive rebound, with GW losing in second-chance points 18-8, and Lonergan described senior forward Darion Atkins as “playing volleyball on the backboards.”
Meanwhile, the Colonials shot just 20 percent in the second half.
“Anything in the paint that seemed to fall in the first half wasn’t in the second half. Their hands are active. It’s definitely an eye opener for us,” McDonald said.
If the paint was tough to get to for GW, the free throw line was tougher. The Colonials took just nine shots from the charity stripe, making six of them. Virginia was 10-16.
Kevin Larsen, normally a stat sheet filler for GW, was 1-3 from the field for two points with just three rebounds.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett echoed advice he said his father once gave him: “You should never let a good big man beat you,” Bennett said. He said his team went after Larsen, trying to trap him and drive at him when he did get catches.
“They doubled him and he’s the best passing big man I’ve ever had. I was actually hoping they’d double him. Usually he picks that apart,” Lonergan said. “Those turnovers and things, I think that affected him on the glass.”
While Larsen struggled, his former teammate at Montrose Christian, Justin Anderson, did it all for the Cavaliers. His eight points were double that of Virginia’s next best scorer at the half, and he was the only player shooting above 50 percent going into halftime 4-7. He was yet again Virginia’s top scorer in the game, ending the game with 18 points.
On one play, Anderson dunked in the ball coming down after it caromed off the basket after a missed three by Nolte to make it 40-34 Virginia and bring a sea of orange and blue to its feet.
Yuta Watanabe continued to impress for GW, hitting a pair of threes on his way to a 10-point, five-rebound night. The freshman showed off his defense on a steal in the first half, managing to use his long arms without fouling.
The two teams had not played each other since 2004, when the Cavaliers beat the Colonials in the first round of the NIT, which was also played in Charlottesville.
But they had seen each other more recently. The last time GW and Virginia were in the same building was last March, in Raleigh, N.C., when the Cavaliers played their first game on a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament while the Colonials tasted defeat in their only game in the Big Dance.
Having once again taken the loss, GW will turn to prepare for a Wednesday night matchup against Longwood at home at 7 p.m.