Midway through the second half, the Colonials were only up by six. Freshman Yuta Watanabe received the ball in the corner and put up a three.
Uncharacteristically, he air balled. But a big stop at the other end gave junior guard Patricio Garino a fast break chance, which he converted into a three-point play after being fouled on his layup attempt that fell, to put his team up 46-37.
The sequence embodied an up and down game in which the Colonials struggled from the field at times, but ended in another conference win for GW, taking down visiting George Mason 63-53 Saturday afternoon.
“I think last year we couldn’t close the close games, but now we have more experience,” Garino said. “We’re staying calm and executing play by play.”
Garino led the Colonials with 14 points and added five rebounds, followed by junior point guard Joe McDonald who had 12 points, knocking down three from beyond the arc, one shy of tying his career-high.
Despite being outrebounded 39-35 and outscored 28-14 in the paint, GW would pull off the 10-point win shooting 35 percent from the field and from three largely by going 23-31 from the foul line.
“[Free throws] are mental, but they’re contagious too so I’m glad we’re starting to make them because it keeps the other team from being able to get back in the game,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.
A signature alley-oop from junior guard Kethan Savage to Garino began the game with an exclamation point. Savage added 10 points and led the team with six rebounds in the GW victory.
With momentum on their side, the Colonials cruised in the opening minutes, going 4-5 from the field with two threes from junior guard Joe McDonald and senior forward John Kopriva contributing to an early 7-0 run. Kopriva would lead his team at the half with seven points and four boards.
But George Mason responded with a run of its own. Led by 6-11 freshman center Shevon Thompson, who would double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds on the day, the Patriots went on an 8-0 run later in the half to pull within one.
Despite the strong start, GW would miss ten consecutive field goals, but stayed in the game at the line, where they shot 82 percent on eleven attempts. While the Colonials went only 28 percent from the field in the first half, the Patriots would double GW in turnovers helping the home team secure a 26-20 lead at halftime.
“The first four out of five baskets were assisted on, and I think after that we only had one for the rest of the half,” McDonald said. “We addressed it at halftime and I think we did a lot better job in the second half.”
The Colonials would get a scare early in the second half when McDonald limped off the court with an apparent injury, leading his team with eight points as he headed into the locker room, but would return a few minutes later to a roaring ovation.
“I think we were even more focused when Joe went down, but he’s a true warrior and we knew he was going to come back,” Garino said.
Junior forward Kevin Larsen was held to just two points and zero rebounds in the first half, but turned it on in the second to finish the game with seven points and three boards.
“I thought Kevin started playing with a little more energy [in the second half],” Lonergan said. “He was much more of a presence inside, and when [George Mason] did collapse, he started kicking the ball out and we got some pretty good looks.”
Although GW had zero points from his bench in the first half, Watanabe would put up seven points in the second half while freshman guard Paul Jorgensen would add six. George Mason’s 13 total turnovers would also help the Colonials close out the game.
The Colonials head back on the road Thursday when they take on Fordham at 7 p.m.