Time and time again this season, Tyler Cavanaugh has come up clutch for men’s basketball. Wednesday night in the Bronx was no different.
After helping his team erase an 18-point first-half deficit, the graduate student forward ended up with the ball off a set play with just seconds remaining in regulation. GW trailed 66-64.
Cavanaugh put up a long desperation three that missed the mark, but earned him a trip to the line with nine-tenths of a second on the game clock as Fordham’s Chris Sengfelder was whistled for a foul.
The 6-foot-9-inch veteran – who owns the sixth-best free throw percentage and most total makes (152) in the Atlantic 10 – cooly nailed all three shots to complete the comeback on the road and clinch a 67-66 decision that brings the Colonials’ win streak to four games.
“That’s a play that we practice everyday,” interim head coach Maurice Joseph said. “When I saw [Sengfelder] tip it I thought ‘oh I can’t believe they got to it’ but I think he did foul [Cavanaugh] and he went down. Tyler’s been great at the free throw line and seniors have got to make plays like that…There wasn’t really a doubt in my mind that he would miss any of them.”
“My mom yelled at me after the Duquesne game a while ago. I missed a couple [free throws] down the stretch,” Cavanaugh said. “She said I rushed so I didn’t rush tonight. I took my time, just imagined all the free throws you shoot in the summer when there’s no one in the gym…I’m happy we could come out on top.”
Cavanaugh finished the outing with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds, good for his 11th double-double and 12th 20-point game on the year. Junior guard Yuta Watanabe followed closely with 15 points and seven rebounds as the only other Colonial to score in double-figures.
A rocky first half, poor three-point shooting and 19 turnovers nearly cost GW (17-13, 9-8 A-10) the game, but a resilient second half effort on both sides of the ball allowed the Colonials to steal a contest which they seldom led.
“The way we played in the first half, we deserved to lose the game honestly,” Joseph said. “But our guys are resilient, we’ve shown that all year.”
The Colonials held their own in the opening minutes of the first half, battling neck-and-neck with the Rams to keep the score tight.
Powered by Cavanaugh and Bolden – who had five points and three assists in the first frame – GW captured its first lead of the night about 11 minutes into the game up 20-19.
But just a few plays later, things began to unravel for the visitors. Fordham’s hot shooters embarked on a relentless 16-0 run with buckets coming from every part of the floor to jump to a 40-22 advantage.
After registering a season-low five turnovers just one game earlier, GW had 11 in the first half alone on 7 Rams’ steals. The home team also went 6-for-12 from three-point range and 63 percent from the field to GW’s 38.
A combined 26 first-half points from Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny (20p) and Javontae Hawkins (13p) to cruise to a 41-28 edge at the break.
“Going into halftime I thought we couldn’t guard our shadows. They shot 63 percent in the first half and that’s atrocious,” Joseph said. “[At halftime] Tyler stepped up and he said his peace and Jaren stepped up and he said his peace, and we were all possessed out there in the second half.”
The Colonials came out with passion to begin the second half, which they opened with a 15-5 run to bring the game back within one possession.
Switching to a zone defense in the second half was key in slowing down the Rams, who were held to a much-improved 36 percent shooting clip from the field in the final period.
“We were really stagnant in the first half defensively,” Joseph said. “They were getting layups, we were turning the ball over, so we did a better job taking care of the ball in the second half and obviously our 1-3-1 and our 2-3 helped.”
However, after cutting Fordham’s lead was cut down to 47-44 midway through the half, the Rams continued to answer.
Down 53-44, Watanabe – who went a stellar 6-for-6 from the field in the second half – and Cavanaugh kept GW afloat with strong plays to the rim, but it was sophomore guard Jordan Roland who provide the X-factor down the stretch.
Despite being one of the strongest three-point shooting teams in the A-10 entering Wednesday’s contest, the Colonials were just 2-for-10 from beyond the arc with less than four minutes to play.
Roland came up big during that final stretch, hitting a triple and then a two-point bucket to tie the game at 57.
“That was huge,” Cavanaugh said. “You never know with that kid but he made some big shots man. I’m so proud of him, he’s been up and down but huge shots tonight…He had eight points down the stretch and that was huge for us so I’m happy that we got this win.”
But Fordham freshman Cavit Havsa would not go down quietly, as the rookie knocked three gut-punching three-pointers in the final two minutes – going 4-for-4 from long-range in the second half.
When Roland hit a critical three with under a minute to go to put GW in front 64-63, Havsa was there to answer with one of his own.
The momentum swing was not enough though, as Cavanaugh was fouled on the next possession and closed out a hard-fought come-from-behind win that moves the Colonials to one game above .500 with one game left in the regular season.
GW finished the night shooting 49 percent from the field to Fordham’s 50, 19-of-26 from the line to the Rams’ 3-of-5 and won the boards 31-21.
The Colonials close out the regular season Saturday at home when they take on first-place Dayton (24-5, 15-2 A-10) at 8 p.m.