With less than a minute on the clock, the crowd at UD Arena on Friday night had just finished a gleeful rendition of “We Will Rock You” when Charles Cooke, drove to the rim and went up with his right hand. Patricio Garino fouled him and Cooke made the bucket and the extra point to extend Dayton’s lead to 73-67 with 42.1 seconds left to play.
Head coach Mike Lonergan would call it the “play of the game” after it ended in a 77-70 GW loss to the Flyers, though there were at least a dozen that could fit that description.
On the next possession, Paul Jorgensen, starting in place of Joe McDonald, hit a three for his first bucket of the night to make it a one-possession game with 30 seconds left. But the Colonials (14-4, 3-2 A-10) couldn’t successfully trap on the next possession, and the Flyers (14-3, 4-1 A-10) got the ball to Dyshawn Pierre, a 90 percent free throw shooter entering the game, before GW could foul.
Pierre hit both his free throws at the line, the dagger for the Colonials’ hopes at an upset road win. It was a difficult ending after Pierre (26 points) and the free throw line frustrated GW all night.
“I’m disappointed, but not with the effort,” Lonergan said. “With how we played down the stretch. And the free throws. And the turnovers.”
The Colonials went 5-for-15 from the free throw line and committed 15 turnovers in the same game as they hit 11-of-22 three-pointers and tallied a season-high 23 assists.
Dayton played in an aggressive man-to-man defense that flustered the Colonials at times, but Tyler Cavanaugh helped the Colonials break out of it to come back from an eight point deficit in the first half. He hit consecutive threes as part of an 11-0 run that would have had GW up at the half, were it not for a last-second three by Pierre.
Cavanaugh led GW with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and four three-pointers. Kevin Larsen was close behind at 16 points and 10 rebounds, though he got lost in rotation on defense in GW’s 1-3-1.
“In the beginning they were really focused on me and him,” Larsen said. “Tyler kept us in the game when he hit three threes in a row.”
Dayton controlled the paint to start, but it evened out in the second half after the Colonials proved themselves with the deep ball. At one point, Larsen was assertive, though often fronted by Dayton’s smaller forwards to deny him the ball.
Larsen said he felt more comfortable going up against 6-foot-11 Steve McElvene where he could get more touches, but McElvene did some damage of his own. He joined Pierre and Cooke (15 points) in double figures with 12 points of his own and led Dayton with six rebounds.
Still, it was Pierre who did the most damage. He was there to foil the Colonials at every point, it seemed, with his five three-pointers and perfect 7-for-7 mark from the free throw line, including buckets after a GW technical.
The teams traded punches all game. GW got up 51-47 after an 8-0 run that included threes from Cavanaugh and Anthony Swan. Dayton got up 63-61 on a 6-0 run after Kyle Davis scored in transition after swiping the ball from Jorgensen, and Larsen couldn’t get either of two free throws to fall to stop it.
The Flyers got 22 points off GW’s turnovers, which allowed them to take more shots in the game despite GW outrebounding Dayton 40-29.
“Those little plays that I’m disappointed in because we’re so experienced – we’ve got to be focused mentally to not let that happen,” Lonergan said.
Beyond that, GW struggled to get points from players other than Cavanaugh, Larsen and Garino, who had 15. Jorgensen was 1-for-8 from the field, Yuta Watanabe and Alex Mitola each 2-for-6. Mitola was a good distributor with seven assists, as was Jorgensen with six.
By the end of the game, the lead had changed 19 times. Tensions flared at mid-court late in the game. Players were exhausted, tongues flopping out running up and down the court.
The moment wasn’t lost on Larsen, even after the loss.
“This is what we play basketball for,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere.”
The Colonials have a week off to let their minds and bodies recover. Next up is Rhode Island, this time back in the Smith Center, on Friday at 7 p.m. McDonald is still being evaluated, but Lonergan said he was “hopeful” that he would be ready to play.