Top GW sports moments: 2015-16 men’s basketball squad clinches first NIT crown

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

The Colonials knocked off Hofstra, Monmouth, Florida, San Diego State and Valparaiso to win their first postseason title.

In lieu of fall sports, we’re dusting off the history books and taking a look back on 10 of the best GW sports moments, ever. Here’s to hoping some old-fashioned nostalgia can keep us going until the restart.

No. 7: Men’s basketball nabs first NIT Championship

The 2015-16 men’s basketball team made its mark in GW’s history books when it claimed the 2016 National Invitation Tournament title.

Head coach Mike Lonergan led the team to its winningest season in program history, racking up a 28-10 record. The roster was chock full of talent, featuring redshirt junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh, senior forward Kevin Larsen and senior guard Patricio Garino. Cavanaugh nabbed the NIT MVP award during the tournament run.

The Colonials started the season with six straight victories in their nonconference schedule. GW received an early season boost when it knocked off No. 6 Virginia at the Smith Center 73–68 in the second game of the campaign. Cavanaugh and Garino both scored 18 points in the statement win.

A 61–56 loss to No. 24 Cincinnati did not deter GW. The team bounced back with three straight wins over Power Five schools, including eventual Big East champion Seton Hall. The victories elevated the Colonials to a No. 20 national ranking.

Despite going 11-2 in nonconference play, the Colonials would struggle against Atlantic 10 opposition. A 10-8 conference record earned GW the fifth seed in the A-10 Championship.

Sophomore guard Yuta Watanabe’s 19-point performance in the second round of the tournament lifted the Colonials over Saint Louis by eight points. In the quarterfinals the Colonials’ run ended as Saint Joseph’s eliminated GW 86–80, leaving the Colonials’ postseason fate in the hands of the selection committee.

GW did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it did accept an at-large invitation to the NIT as a No. 4 seed, facing Hofstra in the first round.

The Pride put up a tough fight, eventually falling 82–80 to a bucket from graduate student guard Alex Mitola with less than three seconds on the clock. Cavanaugh powered the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The second round went smoother for GW. The Colonials knocked off No. 1 seed Monmouth 87–71 behind Cavanaugh’s second straight 20-point plus double-double.

Power Five opposition awaited the Colonials in the quarterfinals. The No. 2 seeded Florida Gators came to the Smith Center for GW’s final home game of the season. The Gators were led by redshirt senior Dorian Finney-Smith, who now starts regularly for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA.

At the end of a game that saw 19 lead changes, GW came out on top with an 82–77 victory. Finney-Smith had the chance to put Florida ahead with less than a minute on the clock, but he missed the open look from beyond the arc and Larsen snagged the rebound.

Just after a Colonials’ timeout, Cavanaugh drilled a triple of his own to put his team in the driver’s seat for the waning seconds of the game. He and Mitola combined to hit all five of their late free throws to seal the win. Cavanaugh notched 23 points, while Larsen controlled the paint with 13 rebounds.

Six days later at Madison Square Garden, defense was the name of the game in GW’s semifinal showdown with San Diego State. The Aztecs shot 13.6 percent from three-point land as the Colonials trampled them to a 65–46 win.

The Aztecs’ nationally top-rated defense couldn’t cool down Cavanaugh, who still led the charge with 20 points and 11 boards. The Colonials became the winningest team in program history and captured a postseason title in one fell swoop in their next meeting with Valparaiso.

Valparaiso’s success came from the standout duo of senior forward Vashil Fernandez and junior forward Alec Peters. Fernandez won the Lefty Driesell Award as the nation’s best defender after amassing 119 blocks, while Peters led the team in scoring with 18.4 points per game.

GW went into halftime with a slim 32–31 lead but came out swinging in the second period. The Colonials left Valparaiso in the dust, outscoring their opponents 44–29 in the final 20 minutes. Mitola cut down the nets to commemorate the program’s first postseason title.

Just months after the win, Lonergan was fired amid reports of abuse toward his players. Assistant coach Maurice Joseph slid into the head coaching role for the next three seasons before he was ousted.

Cavanaugh, Larsen and Garino currently play professionally in Europe, while Watanabe competes for the Memphis Grizzlies organization in the NBA and G League.

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