It was Thomas Jefferson who penned the famous line that all men are created equal.
Not so, said the Associated Press. The Cavaliers of Jefferson’s University of Virginia were to be No. 6 going into their game against GW on Monday night, the Colonials without a ranking.
But in the second half of the game, with Virginia staging a comeback, senior swingman Patricio Garino drove into the paint for a pair of putbacks, declaring his independence from Virginia’s vaunted pack-line defense. By the final buzzer, the Colonials had done away with the expectations awarded them on their way in an enormous upset win, 73-68.
“This is definitely memorable for life,” Garino said. “I think beating a ranked team three years in a row is a big deal, but honestly we’re not surprised. We knew we had the personnel, the confidence, I think we’re playing great basketball.”
Garino scored a team-high 18 points, 14 of them in the second half, matching up with all-ACC first team guard Malcolm Brogdon.
Brogdon had a game-high 28 points, 20 in the second half, as he single-handedly kept Virginia in it. He had his last chance to save the day for the Cavaliers when he stole the ball from redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh, who had just returned to the game with four fouls to his name and 21 seconds on the clock. But Brogdon missed a three, his attempt at hero-ball clanking off the glass.
The game had already dissolved into chaos. Graduate student guard Alex Mitola got a whistle when a ball bounced off his hand. The Colonials were penalized for having six men on the floor. Head coach Mike Lonergan’s son appeared on the jumbotron in a coconut bra. The referees took issue with the undershirts some GW players were wearing.
“I’ll tell you, I’m glad we won because I’ve never had six guys on the court and I’ll take the blame for that but I thought I was going to get crucified in here if that came back to haunt us,” Lonergan joked after the game. “That was crazy.”
Still, the Colonials were mostly calm. Virginia outscored GW 15-5 off 11 GW turnovers, but the madness in the Smith Center rattled the Cavaliers more.
“What a college basketball atmosphere,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said, simply.
Senior forward Kevin Larsen, perhaps the most rattled of the Colonials last year at Virginia, had the revenge game he’d said he wanted after GW’s season opener. He displayed laser-sharp passing and scored over center Mike Tobey when he needed to, adding 9 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 turnovers in a team-high 36 minutes.
“We want Kevin to get double teamed,” Lonergan said. “Last year he got, I don’t know, nervous or whatever. He threw the ball all over the gym in Virginia but he’s the best-passing big man I’ve ever coached.”
Tobey, who scored 10 points and added 7 rebounds, was one of three Cavaliers in double figures, along with Brogdon and forward Anthony Gill who had 11. Still, GW outscored Virginia 36-32 in the paint and won the rebounding margin 37-33 aided by 18 points and 5 rebounds from Cavanaugh.
“That was my first time playing in like a real packed Smith Center and it was just amazing to have that type of [feeling] and we beat an incredibly good team,” Cavanaugh said.
Not everything was picture perfect. The sellout crowd had barely taken their seats, the curated playlists silenced and student section hushed to a dull roar when senior point guard Joe McDonald (10 points, 7 rebounds) was flat on his face and Virginia had taken a 6-0 lead after starting the game with three steals.
“We were definitely a little bit nervous, I mean we gave up a dunk on a play we practiced for three days,” Lonergan said. “That’s understandable. That’s understandable, you’re playing a really big time team.”
But Cavanaugh, the Wake Forest transfer who would like Mr. Jefferson to know that he was an ACC player too, thank you very much, drew a foul and hit two free throws, made a layup while falling down and slammed a dunk to score six straight points for the Colonials to make it 8-6.
No sooner had the Cavanaugh pulled the Colonials back in it from down low then Lonergan went small.
Sophomore guard Paul Jorgensen, who proved an able driver with the ball and scored 10 points, had already moved to the one and McDonald off the ball, and in came Mitola and Hamilton (D-III) transfer Matt Hart for Garino and Yuta Watanabe, who shot just 1-7 from the field but was GW’s best help defender according to Lonergan, adding two blocks and pulling down seven rebounds.
The guards off the bench helped GW hit 45.1 percent of its shots compared to 40.3 percent for the Cavaliers.
Sometimes, it seemed like a fairytale, and not just because GW hit 23-of-28 free throws. A transfer from a Division III school was guarding Malcolm Brogdon and another from the Ivy League was making life hell for Devon Hall, who had half a foot on him. The mini Colonials went on a 6-0 run capped by a Mitola three from the top of the key to make it 13-10 GW, officially overcoming the slow start.
It’s not a fairytale. The Colonials upset a top-25 team last season, too, and did not make the NCAA Tournament as they had hoped to do. But one thing is for sure, it was one for the history books.