After men’s basketball was knocked out of the Atlantic 10 Tournament last Friday, the team – and graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh especially – hoped there was still more basketball left to play.
Wednesday night at the Smith Center, the program was able to continue its 2016-2017 run in round one of the College Basketball Invitational. With his collegiate career extended, Cavanaugh took full advantage of the extra time in a Colonials’ uniform.
The verteran big man’s dominant, 29-point performance willed his postseason squad to a 73-69 win over the Toledo Rockets.
With GW (20-14) up 71-69 with 15.1 seconds remaining, a five-second violation gave Toledo (17-17) the ball and a chance at the lead. The Rockets’ Nate Navigato passed up a good look from deep, and when his drive to the rim did not fall, it was also Cavanaugh who was there to grab a critical board.
He was fouled and hit two at the line on the other end to put the contest out of reach.
“Typical-fashion Tyler Cavanaugh coming to save the day and getting a monster rebound in a crowd of eight people,” interim head coach Maurice Joseph said. “Twenty-nine points, seven rebounds – he threw on his superman cape, did what he does and came up with a huge win.”
Wednesday’s victory clinched the program’s fourth straight 20-win season, and advances GW to the CBI quarterfinal.
Graduate student forward Patrick Steeves followed Cavanaugh – who added a team-high seven rebounds – with 17 points, and fellow starting guards Jair Bolden and Jaren Sina rounded out the Colonials’ offense with nine and eight points, respectively, while combining for five assists.
“You look at the stats tonight – Tyler had 29. It’s Tyler’s team, so I just try to find a way where I can complement him and give him the ball and score when we need to,” Steeves said. “It’s win or go home the rest of the way. We’re trying to hang a banner in here and we got the win so onto the next one.”
GW never trailed in its opening-round matchup in which it shot a healthy 49 percent from the field and hit nine three-pointers. But it was no easy task as its Mid-American Conference opponent – which nearly forced a national record ninth overtime game this season – kept the contest within reach all night long.
Led by Cavanaugh, who went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Colonials raced out to a commanding 24-13 lead a little more than halfway through the opening frame.
The Rockets, without their leading scorer in senior Jonathan Williams, struggled to get going offensively and were held to 41.9 percent from the field in the first half to GW’s 48.4, and 3-of-11 from long-range.
The visitors responded with a few small runs, but didn’t find a consistent rhythm before halftime as GW took a 35-29 edge into the break.
In the second half, Toledo turned it on behind big contributions from sophomore guard Jaelan Sanford and senior forward Steve Taylor Jr. who combined for 43 points on the night.
While GW continued to attack efficiently from the perimeter, the Rockets’ duo pounded the Colonials inside.
“We had a rough game defensively,” Joseph said. “We weren’t all there, kind of struggling with our ball screen stuff. They were missing their best player, I don’t know if we let down defensively because of that, but again, it’s March so survive and advance right?”
“Once we found out Williams wasn’t going to play we quickly realized that Sanford and Taylor were going to take the bulk of their shots and that’s what happened.”
Toledo went on to a shoot a red-hot 61.5 percent from the field to close in on a one-possesion game multiple times in the game’s final minutes despite GW’s multiple answers.
The closest they came, in fact, was on the their final possession down just two points with 15.1 to play. Despite a few looks from outside the three-point line that could have proved game-winners, GW made its most crucial stop and Cavanaugh secured rebound.
The Colonials now await the winner of Stony Brook and Illinois-Chicago’s first-round clash in Monday night’s CBI quarterfinal.