GW basketball set for stretch run, starting with game against U-Mass.


GW Coach Mike Lonergan says his team needs to improve at the free throw line entering Saturday’s game against Massachusetts. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
February 14

The snow was coming down so heavily following the George Washington men’s basketball game in Richmond on Wednesday night that white-out conditions wreaked havoc on visibility and turned Interstate 95 into a slippery mess.

Yet the Colonials weren’t about to hang around after a 92-75 loss to Virginia Commonwealth. Players, coaches and support staff instead boarded the team bus for the treacherous journey that lasted nearly four hours and arrived back on campus in the wee hours Thursday morning, still smarting from their second 17-point loss this season.

“We’re going to try to get rid of this as soon as possible, get the bad taste out of our mouth,” said Colonials senior forward Isaiah Armwood, who had 17 points to match a team high.

At least GW (19-5, 7-3) didn’t have an extended period to stew over a missed opportunity to claim second place alone in the Atlantic 10. The Colonials were back on the practice court Thursday afternoon seeking to regroup for Saturday’s showdown with Massachusetts at Smith Center in their quest for a top four seed — and the double bye that comes with it — in the conference tournament.

“We have to bounce back,” GW Coach Mike Lonergan said.

As unpleasant as circumstances were for the Colonials on Wednesday, they still have every reason to believe they can finish among the top two in the Atlantic 10 with six games left in the regular season. Five of their remaining opponents are below them in the standings, and two of their final three games are against teams tied for last place.

VCU, meantime, has to play No. 12 Saint Louis, which is unbeaten in Atlantic 10 play, twice in the next four games and go on the road for four of its final six. Included in that stretch is a trip to Massachusetts as well as a short drive to face crosstown rival Richmond, which is a half-game behind GW for third place.

The Colonials are seeking to reach 20 wins — and a trip to the NCAA tournament — for the first time in seven years. They also have won 13 straight at home dating from last season, the seventh-longest streak in program history and tied for the 13th longest in the country. GW has won 20 of 28 games at home in the series between the only two continuous members of the Atlantic 10 since the conference’s formation in 1976.

The Minutemen (19-5, 6-4) rose to 13th in the Associated Press poll in mid-January but have lost four of seven since then, including aloss at home to George Mason on Wednesday. The Patriots had a 1-8 record in the Atlantic 10 entering that game.

Among the points of emphasis Lonergan is imparting on his players for the stretch run during this resurgent season includes more attention at the foul line. The Colonials missed 9 of 20 free throws against VCU and are 12th among 13 teams in the Atlantic 10 in that category, shooting 66 percent.

Getting to the line also allows the Colonials to give their rotation of six regulars extra time to rest. Lonergan played each starter at least 30 minutes against the Rams, and senior forward Nemanja Mikic was the only reserve to log double-figure minutes.

GW is trying to make due until guard Kethan Savage comes back from a broken left foot. The sophomore starter has been out since late January, and Lonergan is hopeful he can be back in the lineup by the start of the Atlantic 10 tournament, which starts March 12.

“We’ve got to make our free throws,” Lonergan said, “because that’s something we can control.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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