With about six minutes remaining in Thursday night’s battle against Massachusetts, Patrick Steeves backed down his defender, drove hard to the rim and found the basket to put GW up 66-56.
The graduate student forward turned to his bench, already on its feet, and roared with enthusiasm. He and his team were fired up – and for good reason.
After a shaky first half and back-and-forth action for much of the second, men’s basketball was in the midst of a 21-4 run led by the tenacious fourth-year Harvard transfer who had a career night in 33 minutes off the bench.
From that point on the Colonials (15-13, 7-8 A-10) never looked back and closed out their second straight victory with ease by a score of 83-67 on a season-high 53.4 percent shooting clip from the field.
“I wasn’t overthinking anything,” Steeves said. “I was just working in the post, wheeling and dealing. If they doubled, kick it out try to find open guys. If they didn’t – get a bucket.”
Steeves – who has battled through injury this season and for much of his collegiate career- finished with a career-high 26 points and a season-best five assists.
Interim head coach Maurice Joseph credited the 6-foot-8-inch big man with lifting the team’s energy and intensity level when it needed it most, and said he even let him run a couple of timeout huddles.
“[Steeves] was a man possessed out there,” Joseph said. “When he is playing like that and he’s feeling it, he is a willing passer, he is a smart player. He knows where guys are. I call him a YMCA All-Canadian, he can’t jump over a phonebook really, he has long arms, he just knows how to play.”
“I’m glad he had the game he had,” he continued. “He deserved it because he’s been through some stuff. To have a night like this where he is fired up and sticking his tongue out at the fans and all that kind of stuff, it brought joy for me to see him having so much fun playing the game because it has stripped from him for three years.”
However, Steeves didn’t win the game single-handedly. Graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh added 21 points and 13 rebounds en route to his 10th double-double on the year.
Sophomore guard Jordan Roland – who went 2-for-2 from deep on a night GW struggled early from beyond the arc – also provided a spark off the bench with 15 points and four rebounds.
“Jordan’s play off the bench was what we need from him,” Cavanaugh said. “He is capable of that every night and when he is focused he is a heck of a talent and we need that from him consistently.”
GW and Massachusetts went back and forth early in the first half, trading short jumpers and working in the paint.
Midway through the opening period, both teams were shooting 6-for-17 but the Colonials quickly fell behind after multiple turnovers and a shotty clip from long-range (2-for-7 in the first half) despite entering the night with the best three-point field goal percentage in A-10 play.
The Minutemen picked up steam with a number of trips to the line, and eventually jumped to an 18-12 lead. A three-pointer from Cavanaugh – GW’s first of the night – came with 8:10 to go in the half and tied the game at 22.
But nine first-half turnovers and struggles to carry the ball out of their own end put the Colonials back down 37-29 late in the frame.
Joseph called a timeout, switched to a two-three zone defensively, and GW went on to close the half with a 9-3 run and entered the break behind just 40-38.
“[During the timeout] I said we needed to pick it up to say the least, we were just flat,” Joseph said.
The Colonials turned it on defensively in the second and began to stall the Minutemen’s game down low.
Redshirt junior guard Zach Lewis had 16 points for the Minutemen in the first but was held scoreless in the second. Meanwhile, the visitors’ leading scorer in junior Donte Clark was held to just nine points on the night by junior guard Yuta Watanabe (6p).
While Massachusetts kept it close early in the final frame, GW was ultimately able to hold their A-10 foe to 32.3 percent from the field compared to 48.4 percent in the first half.
“Lewis was getting busy in the first half and we weren’t aggressive enough in containing him in our ball screen defense and that really caused a lot of problems for us,” Joseph said. “We changed our ball screed coverage [in the second half]…we listened to the adjustments and we executed the adjustments and that was huge.”
Up just 58-56 with about nine minutes remaining, Roland hit a much-needed three to provide some separation. Steeves followed with a solo 7-0 run and later found Watanabe for a forceful alley-oop.
Steeves scored solidified his career performance with two more at the line – where he went 7-for-10 to contribute to the team’s overall 14-for-20 mark – in the final minute.
Cavanaugh hit his third three-pointer for good measure with 10 seconds to go to capture GW’s largest lead of the night at 83-65.
“[These last two wins] are huge,” Cavanaugh said. “Duquesne on the road…then beating a UMass team that has beaten Dayton and beaten Saint Joe’s twice in our league. These are two big wins and now we go George Mason in our house to try to get back to .500. Thats all we can ask for.”
The Colonials continue their homestand Sunday when they take on George Mason at 2 p.m.