George Washington basketball: Colonials turn in dominant effort, cruise past Rhode Island

Smith Center has become a sanctuary for George Washington, and two days after losing their Atlantic 10 opener on the road, the Colonials returned to form in the comforts of their Foggy Bottom lair Saturday with a 69-56 victory over Rhode Island.

The margin was not indicative of their dominance: GW scored the game’s first 12 points, led by 17 after 8½ minutes and had a 37-13 advantage at halftime. The gap reached 32 early in the second half in front of 2,644 approving spectators.

In eight home games, the Colonials have won by an average of 19 points.

The Colonials (13-3, 1-1) will brace for a stiffer test Tuesday when, in their third game in six days, they host Atlantic 10 favorite Virginia Commonwealth (13-3, 1-0), which has won five straight.

“They are going to bring that havoc-type defense in here,” GW Coach Mike Lonergan said. “The key with VCU is you have to keep your composure and you have to get shots and not turnovers. . . . We’re fired up. We think we will have a sellout and it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

Before turning their full attention to the Rams, the Colonials savored a strong first-half performance against the Rams (9-8, 0-2).

Kevin Larsen finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and Isaiah Armwood had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Kethan Savage scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and Patricio Garino continued to increase his productivity since recovering from a broken finger with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, plus five rebounds and three assists.

The Rams started 1 of 10 and finished the half shooting 24 percent from the field (0 of 7 on three-pointers) and committing nine turnovers.

“We played hard, set good screens and got each other open,” Larsen said. “On defense, we put them out of their comfort zone so they were doing things they didn’t really want to do. It helped us get a lot of deflections, get a lot of rebounds and really kept their best player from scoring on us.”

That is senior guard Xavier Mumford, who averaged 18.8 points in the previous four games but shot 1 of 6 in the first half and finished 4 for 14 for eight points.

After shooting poorly at La Salle on Thursday, the Colonials found their rhythm right away and shredded the Rams inside and outside, in transition and in half-court sets, with crisp ball movement and emphatic follow-up dunks.

Larsen established the inside game and Garino slashed to the basket — more than compensating for leading scorers Maurice Creek and Savage missing the mark.

“We challenged Kevin,” Lonergan said. “We told him: As he goes, the team goes.”

Garino, who comes off the bench, has shot 20 of 30 and averaged 12.3 points in the past four outings. “I just had to get a feel of the game again and back to what I was,” he said.

The Rams did not reach double figures until 1 minute 43 seconds remained in the opening half. Armwood capped the one-sided half with a 16-foot jumper just before the buzzer.

The second half began much the same as the first: an 8-0 blast. The Rams answered with the best spell of the game – 10 straight points – but the margin remained larger than 20 most of the half.

Lonergan’s only concerns were 1-of-11 three-point shooting and 10-of-19 free throw accuracy. Overall, a satisfying afternoon.

“We won by 13,” he said, “but I really felt we played well enough to win by 20.”

Note: Yuta Watanabe, a 6-foot-8 Japanese forward attending St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut, visited campus and attended the game.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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