Following the first home loss of the season, head coach Mike Lonergan replaced junior guard Kethan Savage in the starting lineup against Davidson with freshman forward Yuta Watanabe last week.
Lonergan said he expected Savage to go off against the Wildcats in response to the change, but he didn’t until the next game. In a 56-48 loss at Richmond on Saturday, the Colonials’ reserves outscored Richmond’s 20-17, behind 18 points from Savage, the first time in 11 games that GW’s bench outscored an opponent.
“Kethan really looked good tonight… coming off the bench, he gave us the scoring we needed,” Lonergan said. “I told him, ‘I’ll probably bring you off the bench again because we need scoring off the bench,’ and it’s not going to affect his minutes in any way.”
Savage – who was picked preseason to finish as a national top-100 scorer – is still second on the team with an average of 12.1 points per game, but has struggled this season, shooting 39 percent and 28 percent from beyond the arc.
Against Davidson, Savage had only four points, going one for seven from the field in his first game starting on the sideline. But against the Spiders, he showed what he is capable of when his shooting game is on.
One reason Savage’s scoring is so crucial to GW’s success is the recent decline in production from Watanabe.
The once-electrifying freshman, who combined for 64 points in the six games following GW’s win over Ohio, has been flat lately. Watanabe has had just 22 points in GW’s last five games and is averaging 6.7 per game on the season. He had only one basket against the Spiders on Saturday.
“Yuta’s not scoring anymore, and we just don’t have anyone else that’s producing off the bench,” Lonergan said. “I thought Yuta looked a little more confident tonight, not very nervous. But if he’s not really open, he’s not going to shoot it, and he doesn’t do a lot off the dribble.”
Picking up some of the slack is Paul Jorgensen, who went three for five from three against Davidson to match a combined nine points by Savage and Watanabe. But the freshman guard struggled at Richmond.
Averaging 4.8 points in the Colonials’ last five games, Jorgensen is the only other player making a real impact off the bench, but he hasn’t yet found consistency. He posted just two points on two field goal attempts against the Spiders, when GW was desperate for points. Savage scored all but two of the bench points in the game, and others will need to find the basket for the team to improve.
While Savage has added an offensive spark, Lonergan also sees defensive weaknesses in his reserves that are hurting the team. In the last four losses, GW has conceded an average of nearly 70 points per game, as starters try to shut down offenses with little assistance.
“Now [Kethan’s] got to focus on being a better defender,” Lonergan said. “We don’t have a lot of energy coming off the bench. We don’t have defensive guys coming in. And our starters, they lapse on defense … it’s about the [defensive] end of the court. That’s where we are losing games.”
With GW now sitting in the bottom half of the Atlantic 10 and just four games remaining before postseason play, the rest of the bench will need to start producing. After all, GW still lost at Richmond, and without Savage, the bench created just two points.
The Colonials return home to take on St. Bonaventure on Wednesday at 7 p.m.