Defense leads the way as men’s basketball beats Davidson

Sophomore forward Yuta Watanabe celebrates a dunk in GW's 79 to 69 win over Davidson. Watanabe registered 13 points going 5-for-7 from the field. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
Sophomore forward Yuta Watanabe celebrates a dunk in GW’s 79 to 69 win over Davidson. Watanabe registered 13 points going 5-for-7 from the field. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
For two basketball teams in D.C. Wednesday night, the challenge at hand was how to handle the best shooting team, and player, in their league.

While the Wizards anguished against Steph Curry and the Warriors down the street, the Colonials got their first win against Davidson as Atlantic 10 rivals in a 79‒69 victory, holding the Wildcats nearly 12 points below their season scoring average.

“Tonight, for the most part, I thought we were pretty focused defensively, talking more and just trying to help each other out and that’s what we should do,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.

The win put GW back on track at home after a double-overtime loss to Richmond last time out in the Smith Center, and began a difficult stretch in the Colonials’ A-10 schedule on a high note. Lonergan said he felt good after the win.

“Much better than I did six days ago,” he said. “[The Richmond loss] was a rough night for me, turning 50 years old, depressing, losing in double-overtime my first [home] loss of the year. It takes me a long time to recover from those games. The losses just kill me so, but it was really about our team defense.”

GW led for most of the second half but didn’t get much separation until around the six-minute mark. Graduate student Alex Mitola, who had thought about a three from the other side of the court but couldn’t get open, dribbled under the basket and turned around for a short jumper from the other side.

Davidson’s leading scorer Jack Gibbs turned it over on their next possession and Tyler Cavanaugh (16 points, six rebounds) hit a catch and shoot three from Patricio Garino (17 points) that put GW up by eight, 68‒60, with 5:54 to play.

The closest Davidson got after that point was when Gibbs drained a three to reach his normal scoring average, 25 points, and cut GW’s lead to 74‒69 with 1:34 left in the game.

But, after a pair of free throws for Cavanaugh, Larsen nabbed a rebound and fed

Senior guard Joe McDonald flies through the air for a basket in the Colonials' win against Davidson. McDonald led GW with 10 rebounds. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
Senior guard Joe McDonald flies through the air for a basket in the Colonials’ win against Davidson. McDonald led GW with 10 rebounds. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
sophomore Yuta Watanabe up the court. The sprinting Watanabe (13 points, six rebounds) slammed it home ‒ his second dunk of the night after a stunning fakeout of forward Peyton Aldridge that put GW up 43-40 early in the second half ‒ and the Colonials led 78‒69, one free throw from Larsen away from the final tally.

Gibbs led all scorers with 25 points, opening up late with a 6-for-12 second-half effort including a few late jumpers that kept the game in question. Yuta Watanabe kept Gibbs quiet in the first half but Davidson’s leading scorer had more success late when Lonergan switched Garino onto him.

“He’s a great player who’s got some tools,” Garino said. “You can’t be guessing with him. If you’re trying to get the 3-pointer out of him, he’s going to drive to the basket, and vice versa. I think the mentality was not letting him go right so often, which was a challenge.”

Garino struggled when Gibbs got space to get around him, but senior forward Kevin Larsen (seven points, six rebounds) was a good helper on Gibbs from inside at times.

Lonergan said he was expecting even more post scoring, but the Colonials were still the dominant team on the interior. It was more with drives than post moves, but GW outscored Davidson 40‒22 in the paint and 18‒11 on second-chance points while winning the rebounding battle 38‒29.

“We thought they were a little inferior on the inside, so we thought we could drive them or get the ball to Kevin or Tyler on the block and let them go to work,” senior point guard Joe McDonald, who had a game-high 10 rebounds, said.

With those good inside shots, GW shot 52 percent for the game to Davidson’s 42 to make up for the Wildcats’ nine 3-pointers. Guard Brian Sullivan had 13 points and Aldridge had 11, but Davidson did not get much help otherwise.

The Colonials went into halftime up 39‒33 after a balanced scoring effort. GW had led by as many as eight midway through the first period, allowed Davidson to pull back ahead at 22‒25, but retook the lead before the break on the strength of a 6‒0 stretch capped by a three – take that, Steph – for Larsen.

By the time Gibbs’ final attempt, which should have been an easy layup, spun around the rim and slipped off of it as the last few seconds ticked away, the Warriors were up 59‒46 Warriors, and Steph Curry had 29 points on 11-for-12 shooting, 7-of-8 on three-pointers.

In that moment, Lonergan was happy to be winning at home. McDonald was happy to get a win heading into a difficult matchup at VCU Saturday. For both of them, the defense was the biggest positive takeaway.

“It’s great for momentum heading into a big game with VCU, especially for the fact that I thought our defense was a lot better,” senior point guard Joe McDonald said.

Tipoff against the Rams is set for noon Saturday.

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