NEW YORK — The third-seeded George Washington men’s basketball team used balanced scoring, precision from the three-point line and timely defensive stands in building a double-digit lead. The Colonials then kept Massachusetts at bay down the stretch for an 85-77 victory in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals Friday night in front of 8,755 at Barclays Center.
In avenging a loss to their longtime conference opponent in the first round of last year’s tournament and a loss at Smith Center this season, the Colonials advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, where they will play Virginia Commonwealth. George Washington split two regular season meetings with the Rams, who beat Richmond in an earlier quarterfinal.
“That was a nice win for us,” Colonials Coach Mike Lonergan said. “Great turnout by GW fans. We really wanted to keep them here for at least another day. Our guys played really hard, got a nice lead at halftime. I thought we rebounded real well in the second half, missed a lot of free throws and had some bad turnovers, but give [U-Mass.] Coach [Derek] Kellogg credit. They kept in that game.”
The Colonials (24-7) overcame 19 turnovers to win their fourth in a row and for the fifth time in six games thanks to six players reaching double figures. Senior forward Nemanja Mikic had his best scoring game in more than three months with 14 points, including 3 for 5 on three-pointers, and sophomore forward Patricio Garino had 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Senior forward Isaiah Armwood had 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks, and sophomore point guard Joe McDonald had 12 points and a team-high seven assists with one turnover in helping the Colonials to a 75-57 cushion with 4 minutes 7 seconds to play. GW’s largest lead of the game soon began growing uncomfortable, though, when the Minutemen turned to full-court pressure.
Chaz Williams got No. 6 seed Massachusetts (24-8) within 83-75 via a pull-up three-pointer on a fast break with 1:25 left in regulation, but the dynamic senior point guard shortly thereafter committed a turnover and missed a layup and a three-pointer that allowed GW to keep its distance. Williams finished with a game-high 19 points, although he missed 11 of 17 shots and had six turnovers.
Leading by nine at the break, GW got a reverse layup from Kevin Larsen (Montrose Christian), and graduate guard Maurice Creek’s three-pointer from the right side went through for a 47-34 advantage with 18:33 left in regulation. The Colonials’ lead soon was cut in half, but GW responded with seven in a row, beginning with Garino’s layup.
Armwood scored the next five on his own despite playing much of the game with foul trouble. The transfer from Villanova who was the first impact player Lonergan added when he started his program rebuild in Foggy Bottom first made 1 of 2 foul shots, then dunked two-handed before scoring a layup as the shot clock buzzer sounded.
Massachusetts reeled off 10 of the next 12 to get within 56-48 with 8:09 to play. The Minutemen got a three-pointer from Demetrius Dyson and a three-point play from Maxie Esho during the surge, but Creek’s three-pointer reclaimed a double-digit lead for GW. Creek and Larsen each finished with 12 points.
Williams made a three-pointer to trim the margin to 63-55 with 6:46 left before GW scored eight straight and added another two field goals moments later for the 18-point lead that was its largest of the game.
The Colonials had been hinting about getting another shot at Massachusetts in the tournament, seeking redemption for GW’s only loss this season at Smith Center. GW came out with just that purpose in mind, particularly Mikic, whose consecutive field goals from beyond the arc began a run of eight straight points early in the first half.
“I’ve had a lot of open shots lately. They just didn’t go in the last couple of games,” Mikic said. “Coach, teammates believed in me. They passed me the ball when I was open, and they dropped down tonight.”