After scoring a game-high 24 points, leading the charge for GW all night and positioning himself as the 25th highest scorer in program history (1,278 points) graduate student Tyler Cavanaugh picked up his fifth foul and walked off the court for the final time in a Colonials’ jersey with 1:27 remaining.
The 6-foot-9-inch forward’s 8-for-9 effort from the field was not enough, as men’s basketball (20-15) fell to University of Illinois-Chicago 80–71 Monday night.
GW trailed by as many as 17 points midway through the second half, but battled back to trail by only one basket with less than two minutes remaining.
UIC freshman guard Godwin Boahen swished a shot from behind the arc to extend the Flames lead and crush the Colonials momentum. UIC (17-18) knocked down its free throws to close out the contest and advance to the semifinal round of the College Basketball Invitational tournament.
“I knew we were going to be able to bring it back, we’ve done that all year,” interim head coach Maurice Joseph said. “Credit to [Boahen]. He made a huge shot.”
The loss concludes the season for the Colonials and the collegiate careers of Cavanaugh and redshirt senior Matt Hart, who played their final seasons in Joseph’s first year at the helm .
“Both of those guys have been unbelievable in their work ethic and their leadership and they have allowed me to coach them,” Joseph said. “I am thankful to them on how they have handled this year and how they have been rock solid for our team.”
GW was without redshirt junior Jaren Sina – who was not at the game for family reasons – for the first time all year and missed his production. Freshman guard Jair Bolden did not pick up the slack, going 0-for-8 from the field and missing two free throws late in the game.
Although rebounding had been a strength for the Colonials for the majority of the year, they struggled on the glass all night, finishing with 14 fewer rebounds than UIC and five fewer offensive boards.
The Flames shot 47 percent from the field and led for more than 38 minutes during the game. GW’s defense could not find the answer, allowing five different UIC players to score in double-digits.
“We tried to mix it up and play some zone, we tried to mix it up and switch things but they exploited our mismatches,” Joseph said. “We could never really get into a groove defensively.”
The first half was characterized by several offensive runs.
UIC started the game on a strong note, sinking a three-pointer and going on a 7-0 run to open the contest before the Colonials were able to respond.
After GW fought back, the Flames defense showed its strength and went on another 7-0 run, taking a 15–7 lead with just over 13 minutes to go in the first half.
The Colonials finally found their rhythm during the next three minutes. They made 5-of-6 shots over the stretch including two three-pointers from freshmen big men Collin Smith and Arnaldo Toro. GW’s 13-2 run gave them a 20–17 lead, the team’s largest of the night.
However, the Flames then caught on fire, exploding for an 18-0 run that gave them a 35–20 advantage and lots of momentum in the dwindling minutes of the opening frame.
Junior guard Yuta Watanabe (21p) found his scoring touch and, along with a buzzer-beating three from Cavanaugh, brought GW within 10 points at the halftime break, 42–32.
The Colonials shortened the margin to a two-point game early in the second half after a three-pointer from Hart, but the Flames’ response came almost immediately.
UIC went on a 10-2 run as the two teams hovered around a 10-point margin for a large part of the half. The Colonials defense was unable to stop the home team from scoring at will in the paint. UIC scored 12 more points in the paint during the matchup.
“This time of year you have to be able to execute, hit shots and defend,” Joseph said. “You have to be able to string together stops. We just didn’t do that.”
After the Flames took a 17-point lead, Watanabe and Cavanaugh went back to work. The duo gave GW offensive momentum as the team went 7-for-8 from the field and brought the game to a 67–65 UIC advantage, but could not come away with a winning decision.
The Colonials are set to return 11 players to its 2017-2018 squad that clinched the program’s fourth consecutive 20-win season and won seven of its last nine games.
“For a group that was so young to start, so inexperienced…who hadn’t played here before, we really developed an identity of grit and toughness,” Joseph said. “I’m very proud of that.”