RICHMOND — For a fourth Saturday in a row, the George Washington men’s basketball team drew an opponent that was at or near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings, giving the young Colonials another chance to measure their progress in Coach Mike Lonergan’s second year of rebuilding.
This time it was conference leader Virginia Commonwealth at one of the most inhospitable environments in college basketball, and while George Washington had an encouraging start, it was unable to withstand waves of relentless pressure in an 84-57 loss Saturday night at boisterous Siegel Center.
In absorbing their most lopsided defeat this season, the Colonials (11-12, 5-5) committed 25 turnovers, including 15 in the first half, to match a season high and shot 39 percent from the field and 56 percent (14 of 25) from the foul line. They also went just 1 of 7 from three-point range.
Freshman guard Patricio Garino and freshman forward Kevin Larsen each scored a team-high 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting for George Washington, which lost for the third time in four games and dropped to 0-4 all-time against the Rams. Freshman point guard Joe McDonald was particularly susceptible to VCU’s vaunted press, committing a season-high eight turnovers and missing 5 of 7 shots.
“First play of the game we threw the ball away for no apparent reason,” Lonergan said, “So we definitely were shook a little bit, some guys, but got off to a pretty good start. When we cut it to 21-18, I thought we’d settle down, and then all of a sudden our guards started to turn the ball over.”
After surging to an early lead shortly after tip-off, the Colonials went without a field goal for nearly five and a half minutes. The Rams took the lead for good, 11-10, on Melvin Johnson’s jumper with 12 minutes 19 seconds left in the first half before closing with a 14-2 flurry heading into intermission.
Junior forward Juvonte Reddic began the onslaught by collecting an offensive rebound and scoring on the follow, and senior guard Troy Daniels added a three-pointer moments later to grow the margin to 33-22. Lonergan called timeout with 2:30 left until halftime, but George Washington could do little to counter Reddic, who scored the next two baskets, one on an alley-oop dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.
Junior guard Rob Brandenberg made a layup, and Daniels followed with his third of three three-pointers to provide a 42-24 lead. George Washington’s only points during that stretch came from a pair of foul shots by McDonald, and the Colonials also missed three more free throws before halftime.
“I think it’s mental toughness,” Garino said of the litany of missed free throws. “It’s not nerves about the game or anything. We’ve been in this situation on other occasions, so we’ve just got to get focused and make free throws.”
The Rams (21-5, 9-2) swelled their advantage to 52-32 early in the second half, but the Colonials chipped away thanks to rebounding that led to fast-break opportunities. Garino was ahead of the pack for six points during a 10-4 burst that trimmed the deficit to 63-51, prompting VCU Coach Shaka Smart to call timeout with 9:36 left to play.
Out of the stoppage, the Rams scored five points in a row, and shortly thereafter, Reddic scored twice after offensive rebounds to make it 72-53, all but ensuring VCU’s fifth consecutive win and 18th in 20 games.
Reddic led the Rams with a season-high 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting, adding a game-high 10 rebounds. Brandenberg, Daniels and Melvin Johnson each added 11 points in helping VCU shoot 53 percent, including 8 of 17 from three-point range.
“I definitely think there were nerves there, whether intimidated by the crowd, I’m not just talking about freshmen, or whatever it was,” Lonergan said. “They say you’re never as good as you think or as bad as you think, but we were pretty bad tonight.”