Men’s basketball holds on against Duquesne, snaps three-game losing streak

Junior guard Yuta Watanabe drives the ball to the hoop against Duquesne on Wednesday. He led GW with 15 points during the team's win. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer
Junior guard Yuta Watanabe drives the ball to the hoop against Duquesne on Wednesday. He led GW with 15 points and five assists. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer

Men’s basketball never trailed Wednesday at the Smith Center, but came just inches away from letting a fourth straight conference game slip away.

Although the Colonials maintained a double-digit lead for a good portion of the night, Duquesne (9-10, 2-4 A-10) roared back midway through the second half to tie the score at 56 with less than five minutes to play.

A desperation heave from Jaren Sina found a way in, and the Dukes’ leading scorer missed a last-second, potentially game-winning three during a frenetic final minute that ended in a 65-63 win for GW (10-9, 2-4 A-10). The decision snapped a three-game skid and marked the team’s second Atlantic 10 victory of the year.

“The message [after Duquesne tied the game] was ‘we’ve been here before,’” interim head coach Maurice Joseph said. “‘There is no need to panic. Everybody stay even keel, and let’s go get the next shot.”

Sina did just that a few plays later after his three-point attempt was blocked with his team up by three. The redshirt junior guard calmly caught the miss and immediately put it back up with the shot clock at one.

The shot clanged off the iron, but willed its way into the hoop to put the Colonials ahead 63-57 with 36 seconds remaining – a play that proved pivotal down the stretch.

“It was a great feeling. Definitely a lucky shot, but I’ll take it,” Sina said. “Once I saw it [go up] – I don’t even know – it kind of curved in…Sometimes the basketball gods help you out.”

Sina and junior guard Yuta Watanabe led the charge offensively, posting 14 and a game-high 15 points on the night, respectively, as GW shot 42.1 percent from the field as a team to Duquesne’s 40.6.

Graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh also reached double-digits with 11 points and a team-best 10 rebounds – good for his sixth double-double this season.

The first-half was a three-point spree for the Colonials, as Sina and Watanabe each hit back-to-back triples to put open a 12-4 lead to start the game.

Freshman guard Jair Bolden earned his first career start Wednesday night alongside Cavanaugh, Watanabe, Sina and freshman forward Arnaldo Toro. The rookie and Watanabe were tasked with defending Duquesne’s two top-scorers in Ernie Blackman and Mike Lewis II, who went a combined 4-for-14 in the first half.

Freshman guard Jair Bolden dribbles around a Dukes defender. The game marked the first career start for Bolden who finished with five points, four assists and four rebounds. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer
Freshman guard Jair Bolden dribbles around a Dukes defender. The game marked the first career start for Bolden who finished with five points, four assists and four rebounds. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer

Bolden finished his debut start with five points, four rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes on the floor.

“[Bolden] is doing a better job defensively. That is why he is in the position,” Joseph said. “In practices he is doing a better job guarding, he is understanding how to guard pick-and-roll situations a little better position wise, he is a tough kid who has some size. We don’t really have that off the bench.”

GW would go 8-for-17 from deep in the opening frame and shot 45.5 percent despite being outscored in the paint 20-10. That’s where the Dukes would score the majority of their first-half points, as the visitors were held to 1-for-8 from long range.

Duquesne finished the period on a 5-0 run, but a strong performance on both ends of the floor still had GW – who led by as much as 16 – up 38-29 at the break.

The home team picked up right where it left off, as Sina drained another triple to kick off a 7-2 run that opened the second half.

But the Colonials quickly went cold, unable to find ways to score against a Duquesne defense that looked like it had found new life. After a red-hot first-half GW went only 3-for-8 from three-point range in the second, and shot 37.5 percent from the field.

Defensive lapses, nine second-half turnovers and eight personal fouls by GW helped the Dukes – who went 7-for-13 from the line on the night to GW’s 6-for-10 – claw their way back into the game.

After Sina’s big-time three, GW found itself up just two with five seconds remaining and Tyler Cavanaugh at the line. The graduate student forward’s front-end of a one-and-one bounced off the rim and the Dukes grabbed the rebound.

Duquesne junior guard Rene Castro, who had a team-high 13 points, got one last look from beyond the arc but could not get it to fall, handing GW a much-needed league win.

The Colonials look to improve to 3-4 in A-10 play next Wednesday, when they travel across the Potomac for a 7 p.m. showdown with local rival George Mason (12-6, 2-3 A-10).

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