Before the season began, how many Maryland men’s basketball fans looked at the BB&T Classic matchup against George Washington and pegged that game as must-win? The Terrapins, initial logic went, had bigger opportunities ahead, like facing Connecticut in the season opener or traveling to Ohio State for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Instead, after getting pounded by the Buckeyes by 17 points on Wednesday, the Colonials suddenly offer the best – and perhaps last – chance to actively enhance the Terrapins’ nonconference resume before ACC play begins. Beating teams like Boston University and Tulsa won’t hurt Maryland like the South Carolina States and IUPUIs did last season, and a rigorous conference slate offers plenty of committee-impressing games, so losing to a George Washington team currently existing on the fringes of the Associated Press top 25 won’t exactly be damaging. But with ACC play beginning next week at Boston College, the Terps could sure use a win.
That said, Mike Lonergan probably couldn’t have imagined his Colonials would be 7-1 through eight games, receiving two votes in the AP poll with wins at Manhattan and a neutral-site victories over Miami and then-No. 20 Creighton. And the Bowie native probably never thought George Washington possibly could be considered the favorite entering Sunday’s game against the team for which he grew up rooting.
“I think it’s good just for the area,” Lonergan, a former Maryland assistant, said after he made some milkshakes at a BB&T Classic charity event. “I’ve always been a fan from here. I love the DMV. One thing I was always jealous of as a player and a coach was Philly has the rivalries and camaraderie with coaches, they play each other, Big Five and all that. D.C. we don’t really have that. I’m happy Maryland and GW agreed to play.”
George Washington rolled through Radford and Maine early, then edged Manhattan on the road by six and crushed Delaware State by 44. After that, the Colonials ventured to the Wooden Legacy tournament in California, where they beat Miami but slogged through a rough first half to lose by double digits to Marquette. Then, in the third-place game, GW upset Creighton and preseason all-American Doug McDermott.
“That game surprised me,” Lonergan said. “I didn’t know we could guard the McDermott kid without doubling him. If you double him, those other guys hit threes. I give Isaiah [Armwood] a lot of credit. He did a great job on him, then we picked our spots and changed defenses.”
Maryland’s point guard struggles have been magnified without sophomore Seth Allen, who will undergo a six-week X-ray next week that will determine the progression of his rehabilitation. But the Colonials, who enter the BB&T Classic fresh off a 93-87 home win over Rutgers and a 24th-place vote in the AP poll by John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald, have endured their own health problems, too.
Point guard Joe McDonald is “day-to-day,” Lonergan said, after battling a hip injury that was compounded on a bad fall against the Scarlet Knights, while sophomore guard Patricio Garino has been shelved with a broken finger that flared up against Creighton. Without Garino, Lonergan seemed worried about defending Dez Wells, even though the Colonials rank 45th nationally in two-point defense and 20th in block percentage, according to Kenpom.com
“You look at our stats from last season, we could shut down a wing, guys would go 4 for 18,” he said of Garino. “He’s that good of a defender.”
Lonergan also seemed content, like the Terps inevitably will, to forget about Maryland’s loss to Ohio State game, when the Terps fell behind by 17 points at halftime and never really competed outside of the first five minutes. At Vermont, Lonergan lost both matchups against the Terps and has scrimmaged them several times since moving to George Washington for the 2011-12 season.
“Sometimes it’s matchups,” he said. “You’re never as bad or as good as you think. That was a tough situation going to Ohio State. They’re undefeated, great atmosphere, the [Aaron] Craft guy is a lockdown defender. It’s just one game. I don’t’ take too much stock in that. I saw them against Providence, I watched some tape last night. They’re good. They’re definitely playing a lot better now, if you take out that Ohio State game.”