The Colonials were looking for a solid win, a statement about the strength and dependability of the junior “core four.” They got one.
Despite taking 18 fewer shots, GW (5-2) scored at will against former Atlantic 10 rival Charlotte (4-4), pulling away in the second half to beat the 49ers in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center on Sunday.
Led by Patricio Garino’s 21 points, each member of the junior core hit double figures to win 78-70, with much of the team’s best work on offense coming above the rim.
“I thought we controlled the tempo and ended up getting them in foul trouble, and I thought our guys played a really smart second half,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “It kind of felt like our team again, getting to the rim with Kethan [Savage] and Pato [Garino] getting to the basket and opening some things up.”
When GW took shots, the majority of them fell. The Colonials shot nearly 55 percent from the field and shot 50 percent from beyond the three-point line, compared to Charlotte, which shot less than 40 percent from the field and just over 42 percent from beyond the arc.
But they didn’t always shoot. GW had nine fewer shot attempts than Charlotte in each half, allowing the 49ers to stay close despite strong shooting. Charlotte owned the offensive boards 19-8 and out-rebounded GW 37-34 in the game overall.
“One thing we’ve got to be better at is finishing the play. They got so many offensive rebounds, especially Willie Clayton, but other than that, we stuck to the game plan,” junior point guard Joe McDonald said.
Junior forward Kevin Larsen, a source of much concern earlier in the season, had another nice game after turning in a 14-point performance the last time out against UMBC. He scored 10 points and had six rebounds, including a precious three offensive rebounds, matched only off the offensive glass by Savage, who had a 15-point night.
Larsen also benefited from the foul trouble of Charlotte’s leading scorer, Mike Thorne Jr., who was held to just 21 minutes of play after picking up four fouls early in the second half when it was still close.
The Colonials went to the lockers up 31-28 after getting nearly all of their offense in the first half from Garino. The junior swingman scored 12 of his points in the first half on perfect 6-6 shooting on the way to his second straight game scoring 20 points or more.
“I think we’re pushing the ball a little more. I feel very confident in transition and I feel like we’re pushing the ball ahead,” Garino said. “We’re not being so selfish in the two-on-one, three-on-one game, and that’s what I feel comfortable with.”
With the Colonials down by two at 12-10, Garino followed up on two straight blocks from freshman forward Yuta Watanabe, the first of which would have been a surefire dunk off the fast break for Charlotte, with a steal and a one-handed slam of his own to tie the game.
Another steal, this time by sophomore guard Nick Griffin, gave Garino an easy layup. He scored GW’s next three baskets, including another dunk fed by a McDonald steal. McDonald filled the stat sheet with 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, again hinting at a triple-double.
With the starters taking over for GW, both teams used their benches lightly. Charlotte’s bench outscored GW’s 17-14, but the Colonials got a nice boost from freshman Paul Jorgensen, especially in the first half.
Visibly upset after being called for a travel, Jorgensen responded with five straight points, laying one in and then elevating for a rebound on the other end before putting GW up 29-26 with a triple. Jorgensen finished the game with eight points, showing some development going into a tough stretch of games to close out non-conference play.
“I thought it was really important when you look at our schedule,” Lonergan said. “This was definitely a game we had to get not being on our home court but in our home city.”
Besides a win over a Rutgers squad that had the college basketball world’s head spinning, the victory was GW’s first against a team not ranked in the Division I cellar of the NCAA.
That should give the team some confidence as it heads into the final games of non-conference play, starting with DePaul (6-1) on Thursday in the Smith Center.