RICHMOND, Va. – As the final seconds ticked off the Robins Center scoreboard, Kevin Larsen pointed at a dribbling Joe McDonald with a wide smile, acknowledging the point guard’s performance in a 73–61 road win at Richmond Wednesday night.
McDonald shook his head, and pointed right back.
The seniors, who combined for 27 points, 15 rebounds and three assists, were two of four GW veteran starters to score in double-figures on the night.
Led by senior forward Patricio Garino’s 16 points, all of which came in the second half, and redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh’s 12 boards, the seasoned squad avenged last months’ double-overtime loss to the Spiders with experience and sturdy team defense.
“That was heartbreaking for us, losing at home in double-overtime, this was definitely a revenge game for us. It started a little slow in the first half, but I think defense was the key of the game,” Garino said. “I think at this time of the year it’s fundamental to stay focused, but I think our experience is paying off.”
The four upperclassmen that make up the Colonials’ starting five combined for 56 points, and graduate student guard Alex Mitola led the bench with 7 points en route to the team’s third consecutive victory.
“That’s what they should do, they’re seniors,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We’ve invested a lot of time in them and they’ve got great experience and now it’s time for it all to pay off…We just hadn’t had a sense of urgency and I think we’re starting to get that.”
A 24-for-31 night at the line, aided by Richmond’s dismal 9-of-14 performance, also helped propel GW, the second-best free-throw shooting team in the Atlantic 10, to its seventh road win on the year.
GW’s performance on the defensive end was just as strong.
In GW’s Jan. 28 loss to the Spiders (14-13, 6-9 A-10), Richmond shot 60 percent from the field, hitting 11-of-19 from three-point range. On Richmond’s home floor Wednesday night, the Colonials held the Spiders to just 4-for-18 from deep and 42.1 percent from the field.
Although the Spiders were able to keep it close in the first half, outrebounding GW 20-17 and securing a lead as large as five points late in the frame, McDonald said the key for the Colonials was more aggression in the second.
“[In the second half] our defensive pressure increased and we rebounded better,” McDonald said. “We were the aggressor, I felt like, in the second half, you know, pushing in transition, getting to the free throw line, and when we did that it kind of helped open the game up for us.”
After a three-point clinic against LaSalle Sunday, the Colonials (21-7, 10-5 A-10) found success early on the offensive end by feeding the ball inside.
Larsen racked up eight points to co-lead the frame in scoring. Cavanaugh and McDonald also had eight each, and were the sole contributors to GW’s mediocre 5-of-10 clip from the free throw line in the first half.
The foul-ridden frame saw both sides take 10 personals while Lonergan and the GW bench received a warning from officials.
After the Colonials jumped to a commanding 23–14 lead with five minutes remaining until halftime, they conceded a 12-0 Richmond run to fall behind by two points.
But as did most fans in attendance who braved Virginia’s tornado-filled forecast, GW weathered the storm. After a few stops, five final points from Mitola pushed the Colonials to a 32–30 halftime edge.
While Richmond’s Terry Allen matched Garino’s game-high 16 points, dangerous three-point shooters like Marshall Wood and ShawnDre’ Jones, who combined for 51 points at the Smith Center, were held to a combined 11 points Wednesday.
“A lot of it had to do with our energy,” McDonald said. “Richmond is a good team and we knew they were going to give us their all tonight, but we just wanted to make sure we had the right focus and the right energy level, especially on the defensive end.”
In the second half, improved GW defense held the Spiders to just 39.4 percent from the field and 2-of-10 from long-range.
GW also improved to a stellar 19-for-21 from the charity stripe in the final frame and finished the contest with a 38–32 edge on the glass.
The Colonials next test will be VCU at home on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.