George Washington senior Maurice Creek walked down the stairs and into the home locker room at Smith Center on Sunday afternoon and did what he always does after a poor half on the basketball court. The graduate transfer from Oxon Hill prayed.
Soon enough, Coach Mike Lonergan approached. Of late, he had taken to joking with Creek that “his picture is on a milk carton.” This time, though, Lonergan offered a more serious message: “Keep shooting.”
“He was missing for a while,” Lonergan said after George Washington rolled past George Mason, 66-58. “I was praying, too.”
Creek, just 1 for 7 to start the contest, caught fire as soon as halftime ended, scoring 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half when the Colonials pulled away from the Patriots. It was his most productive afternoon since a 25-point outburst against Maryland at Verizon Center on Dec. 8, a performance that also included a dramatic game-winner.
Of more importance: George Washington (21-7, 9-5 Atlantic 10) avoided an upset against one of the worst teams in the conference as it tries to secure its first NCAA tournament bid since 2007. The Colonials had lost three of their previous four conference games, and a senior night matchup against second-place Saint Joseph’s looms Wednesday in Foggy Bottom.
“Everybody we play, I cheer for now . . . because it helps our RPI,” said Lonergan, interrupting himself to ask about Maryland’s double-overtime loss at Clemson.
As he was so often during nonconference play, Creek proved to be the catalyst in front of 4,307 fans Sunday.
With George Washington clinging to a 26-24 halftime lead, he hit three-straight three-pointers and scored 11 points in the first three minutes of the second half as the Colonials quickly built a double-digit advantage.
George Mason (10-18, 3-11) closed the gap to one with 10 minutes remaining thanks to a 13-3 surge of its own. But George Washington guard Patricio Garino (13 points), playing with four fouls, responded with a three-pointer from the top of the key to kick-start a 13-1 run that squashed any late-game drama.
Garino and Creek combined to score all but one point during the sequence.
“It feels like we have no pressure when he hits those shots,” Garino said of Creek.
George Washington forward Isaiah Armwood registered his ninth double-double of the season (11 points, 14 rebounds), and forward Kevin Larsen chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds, the sort of across-the-board contributions George Washington must have with sophomore Kethan Savage still sidelined because of a foot injury. The Colonials finished with 19 second-chance points.
George Mason guard Sherrod Wright had 16 points and Bryon Allen added 14 points, but the Patriots shot just 3 for 16 from three-point range facing a 1-3-1 zone much of the day.
“Creek’s a really good shooter. He’s been a huge addition for them and helped them win a lot of big games,” George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt said after George Washington completed a season sweep of his team. “But I don’t think he by himself tonight delivered the blow. It was a group effort on the boards.”
For months now, though, Lonergan has put his faith in Creek. And on Sunday, it was rewarded again.
“I didn’t have the best first half, and I knew that,” Creek said. “Shooters are gonna have that type of half, but you don’t want to have that type of game.”