With a little over nine minutes left and the game still competitive, Virginia forward Darion Atkins grabbed his own offensive rebound off a missed layup.
He tried to lay it in again, but it bounced off the rim for the second time. Luckily, Atkins was there to scoop it up. He passed out to center Mike Tobey, who missed again, this time on a short jumper.
Nonetheless, Atkins stuck to his plan, grabbed the third offensive rebound of the play and finally got the ball in the net with a layup. He scored the following two baskets as well, giving the Cavaliers an 11-point lead with less than seven minutes left and GW’s inside game nowhere to be found.
Almost all of the Colonials’ deficiencies Friday night stemmed from their inferiority in the paint. Virginia dominated down low, outscoring the Colonials 42-24 from the painted area and holding both GW starting forwards to a combined five points on the night.
Head coach Mike Lonergan said although the team was focused and leading after the first half, foul trouble against a hard-nosed Cavaliers’ offense may have hurt them early.
“I told our guys the foul trouble was disappointing,” Lonergan said. “We were up four and we had three starters with two fouls, and a lot of those were ill advised, and maybe that took away from us being aggressive.”
The Colonials would finish the half with eight personal fouls to Virginia’s three, and would tally 15 on the night with Lonergan also earning his team a technical. But the other end of the court is where Virginia’s supremacy inside caused the most problems for GW’s usual scorers.
Virginia outshot the Colonials 50 percent to 20 in the second frame, with GW only managing five total field goals. Virginia’s shutdown defense inside, which tallied nine blocks on the game, left GW’s veteran big men nowhere to be found.
Junior forward Kevin Larsen, who was averaging 11 points and nine rebounds per game coming into the contest, totaled just two points and three rebounds against. The normally strong passer couldn’t get the ball out of a stifling Virginia defensive double-team, having just one assist against the Cavaliers.
It was the second game in a row in which Larsen didn’t look like himself – after scoring just seven points in a 17-point win over Rutgers last Sunday even though the Scarlet Knights were without their top inside threat.
“I don’t know if it was the crowd or whatever … but [Larsen] threw it over a couple of guys heads, and that’s very unlike him,” Lonergan said. “He’s faced really good teams in the past, so maybe he was trying too hard.”
Averaging a team-high 15.5 points coming into Friday, the offensive efforts of Patricio Garino were also thwarted by the Cavaliers below the rim. The junior was unable to get past his Virginia counterparts and finished with just five points and one assist.
Rebounding also severely dropped off for the Colonials in the second half on both sides of the ball, with GW totaling just seven offensive rebounds the entire game.
“[Virginia] attacks the offensive glass really hard. They bang a lot on the boards,” junior guard Kethan Savage said. “First half we were pretty even on the boards, but second half they kind of dominated, so that kind of wears you down.”
Senior forward John Kopriva and Larsen combined for a total of six rebounds as Virginia finished the game with a 41-28 rebounding edge. Lonergan said the Cavaliers’ defense down low made his team settle for outside shots on multiple occasions as the team finished 16-49 from the field.
“We shot too many threes. I knew we were going to be forced to take outside shots, and we didn’t make them,” Lonergan said. “We really need our bigs to rebound. [Freshman forward Yuta Watanabe] was our lead rebounder, and we need Kevin and John to get in there and really dominate.”
While upperclassmen underperformed, Watanabe seemed to be one of the Colonials’ few shining stars. The rookie scored 10 points, sinking two of six from beyond the arc, and led the team with five rebounds off the bench in 28 minutes on the court.
But Watanabe, at a thin 193 pounds, was still easily knocked around by aggressive Virginia board play.
“It’s hard for Yuta defensively in there, and he’s just not strong enough to keep them off the glass, but he’s not afraid or anything,” Lonergan said. “He was our lead rebounder, so he’s battling, but I think once Kevin [Larsen] and these guys get used to playing with Yuta, he’ll become a much better player.”
While it’s easy to say the size and skill of a No. 9 Virginia team that was able to command play down low was the main reason for the Colonials’ loss, Savage thinks his team could have done better.
“I don’t really feel like we put on our best performance tonight,” Savage said. “We’re just going to put this one behind us and prepare for the next game. I still think we can compete with the best.”
The Colonials will look to bounce back Wednesday as they return to the Smith Center to take on Longwood at 7 p.m.