With three minutes remaining in GW’s first round NIT clash with Hofstra, graduate student guard Alex Mitola, making his first appearance in the postseason tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field.
Moments after the final buzzer, the 5-foot-11-inch Dartmouth transfer was being hoisted by senior forward Kevin Larsen midcourt.
Mitola’s late-game, one-footed runner over forward Rokas Gustys, who had completed a 9-0 Hofstra run and tied the game at 80 just seconds earlier, held as the game-winner to help the Colonials take down Hofstra 82–80 Wednesday night at the Smith Center.
“We were struggling against the zone and I figured they would come out in the same defense, and we had taken some bad shots. So I went back and forth a couple of times between giving Joe [McDonald] the ball or Alex [Mitola],” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Alex was 1-for-8 but he’s a little quicker getting the ball up the court and he’s great at penetrating…Alex did everything right.”
Mitola was instructed to dish it to redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh, the team’s leading scorer who contributed a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, if he didn’t get his defender to bite.
“Fortunately [Gustys] slid his feet so I pulled up, off that foot, and [was] able to make the shot,” Mitola said. “Things weren’t going my way, whether it’s a jump shot or a bobbled ball or a layup, I was just slightly off so I said to myself just keep playing and fortunately down the stretch I was able to make some big plays.”
Hosting the NIT for the first time in school history, fourth-seeded GW (24-10) also received a sturdy offensive effort from its starting five, four of which scored 15 points or more, forced 20 turnovers and racked up a season-high 20 steals to secure the two-point decision over fifth-seeded Hofstra (24–10).
Spring break and a Metro rail shutdown contributed to a small 1,058-person Foggy Bottom crowd, but that didn’t stop the Colonials’ offense from coming out strong.
Cavanaugh led the Colonials with 16 points in the first half, going a perfect 2-for-2 from three-point range. As a team, GW went 8-for-23 from deep as sophomore forward Watanabe, who scored 13 points in the frame and 15 on the night, and senior swingman Patricio Garino (18 points) each added a pair.
“I thought I could go inside and throw my weight around a little and I got some shots off the glass, some offensive rebounds, but the guys did a great job finding me for some open shot,” Cavanaugh said. “[Mitola] hit me at the end of the [first] half for that open three, and when we’re playing free that’s when we’re at our best.”
Hofstra entered the game as the 37th-best rebounding team in the country, but GW won the boards in the first half 19–12. Senior guard Joe McDonald led his team with six rebounds in the frame.
While the Pride opened the contest with efficiency from the field, at one point boasting a 57 percent clip, they cooled off significantly in the last few minutes to finish the first half shooting 48.1 percent to GW’s 51.5.
While the home team entered halftime with a 49–38 lead, GW’s defense stagnated in the second half.
The Colonials were outscored 42–33 in the second half and allowed the Pride to shoot 56.7 percent from the field, and hit 10 three-pointers on the night.
“Our defense, was just, kind of like all year it just wasn’t very good,” Lonergan said. “I mean, another team shooting 50-something percent. Even in our losses we’re scoring 80, our offense has been terrific but we’ve got traditional bigs and, these teams spread us out, we have trouble getting out there early and hedging and doing things so they really tore us apart, especially in the last three minutes. Luckily we had a big lead.”
Hofstra senior guard Juan’ya Green netted a game-high 26 points while three more visiting starters scored in double-figures on the night. But 20 total turnovers, the second-most an opponent has committed against GW this season, could not be overcome.
GW scored more than a quarter of its point total off of giveaways despite being outscored in the paint 40–38.
Larsen (16 points) contributed a team-high four of 12 total steals, and added a team-best seven assists in the victory. Cavanaugh also reached the 1,000 career-point plateau with his 20-point performance.
GW ended the night being outrebounded 33–32, as Hofstra edged them on the glass 21-13 in the final half, but was a healthy 12-of-16 at the free throw line.
With the win, the Colonials advance to the second round of the NIT and will visit No. 1 seed Monmouth on Monday night.