Three keys to GW’s upset over No. 6 Virginia

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

Sophomore forward Yuta Watanabe drives to the hoop in the Colonials' upset win over No. 6 Virginia on Monday. Watanabe had 5 points in 33 minutes.

Entering Monday night’s matchup, Virginia had won its last seven meetings against the Colonials, including a 59-42 victory in Charlottesville last November in which GW led by four at halftime.

But in front of a raucous, sold-out Smith Center crowd, GW held off the No. 6 Cavaliers and completed a stunning upset with a 73-68 decision over the ACC powerhouse.

The victory, GW’s second of the young 2015-2016 season, was the Colonials’ first over an opponent ranked No. 6 or higher since taking down No. 1 Massachussetts 78-75 on Feb. 4, 1995.

Four Colonials scored in double figures and the GW defense forced eight turnovers and held the Cavaliers to a 40.3 percent clip from the field. But here’s a closer look at some other key statistics that propelled the program to one of its biggest wins in 20 years:

1. Rebounding

At John Paul Jones arena last season, the Cavaliers completely dominated on the glass. Then-No. 9 Virginia outrebounded the visiting Colonials 41-28 on the night which helped in holding GW to just 16 second-half points.

Monday night, however, through a balanced effort on the boards by GW’s starting lineup, the Colonials won the rebounding battle 37-33 against a Virginia team that averaged 36 per game last year.

“Joe McDonald is one of the best rebounding point guards maybe in the country, and I loved the tip-ins by Yuta [Watanabe.] But I thought getting to the offensive glass and diving on balls in the defensive end, that was just something I was really proud of our guys for,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

Seniors Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen, as well as sophomore Yuta Watanabe, co-led the team with seven rebounds each, while senior Patricio Garino and junior Tyler Cavanaugh, who co-led GW with 18 points apiece, each added five.

2. Free throws

Last year, trips to the line didn’t always guarantee points. The Colonials shot a combined 67.4 percent from the charity stripe on the 2014-2015 season, which ranked eighth in the Atlantic 10.

But in 28 total trips to the line against Virginia, GW shot a healthy 82.1 percent clip, with Cavanaugh going a perfect 8-8 as the Colonials secured a crucial 23 points from that area.

“That was one of our weaknesses. Our free throw shooting was contagious and we did a really poor job, and it probably cost us two or three wins last year,” Lonergan said. “I thought Patricio was so efficient tonight. He hit a big three but going three-for-three from the line, that’s where big games are won and lost.”

Larsen in particular, who shot just 61.2 percent from the foul line last year, has markedly improved through two games this season. He went a game-high 10-13 against Lafayette and 5-6 against the Cavaliers.

Virginia shot an 81.3 free throw percentage, but only attempted 16.

3. Points in the paint

Virginia’s pack-line defense, the best in nation last year, stymied Larsen and the Colonials in the paint last November, outscoring them 42-24 down low.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well from deep Monday night, but this time GW maintained the edge under the basket. The Colonials’ three forwards combined for 32 points on the night while their team won the scoring battle in the paint on the night, 36-32.

The Cavaliers, who head coach Tony Bennett described as “out of sync,” went just 1-for-9 from three-point range in the first half and 5-of-20 on the night, with missed shots dampening any offensive momentum they had built multiple times.

The Colonials went 4-15 from beyond the arc, but made up for it at the line and with strong post play from Larsen and Cavanaugh.

“We didn’t hit threes. We haven’t made threes in our first two games, but I think that Kevin [Larsen] made some great decisions and we did a good job going into him and kind of playing through him,” Lonergan said.

Larsen, who was held to just two points and committed a team-high four turnovers in last year’s loss to Virginia, added nine points and a game-high 5 assists in the five-point upset victory Monday.

“When we went to trap, [Larsen] was playing for the pass and we were just out of position,” Bennett said. “We’re going to have to be good with our trap and more active. That cost us today, and they made us pay.”

Additionally, Lonergan said he didn’t think any of his guards, except sophomore Paul Jorgensen, could get past Virginia’s adept defenders up top. Jorgensen did not disappoint, posting 10 points and one assist on the night and getting to the rim on a handful of critical possessions.

The Colonials return to action Thursday at 7 p.m. when they travel to Tampa, Fla. to take on the University of South Florida in their first road test of the season.

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