After a double-digit lead in the first half evaporated, the George Washington men’s basketball team regrouped and rallied for a 76-71 victory over Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday at Smith Center to remain in the mix for a coveted double bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
On senior night, graduate guard Maurice Creek led the way with a team-high 20 points, and senior forward Isaiah Armwood added 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Joe McDonald chipped in 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in front of 4,228 who showed up for the rare 9 p.m. start.
Sophomore Patricio Garino added 17 points and put GW ahead to stay, 60-58, on a three-point play with 6 minutes 55 seconds left. Garino then made a pair of foul shots before McDonald scored five straight for a 67-60 lead with less than two minutes to play. The closest the Hawks got thereafter was within four.
“This is a great team win,” Creek said. “St. Joe’s is a tough team. They have a lot of talent, and we knew what we needed to come in here and do, and we did it. We made plays in the stretch. We were down, they came back in the first half, and we got refocused. We calmed down. We made plays for each other.”
The Colonials (22-7, 10-5 Atlantic 10) will finish fourth in the conference with a win against Fordham in the regular-season finale and a Massachusetts loss to to first-place Saint Louis. GW and the Minutemen are tied for fourth, but Massachusetts owns the tiebreaker based on its victory at Smith Center Feb. 15.
The top four finishers in the regular season qualify for the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament that begins Wednesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The advantage of the double bye means avoiding having to play potentially five games in as many days after a 16-game conference schedule.
“I remember a year ago beating Dayton here,” GW Coach Mike Lonergan said. “A great win just to get us into the [Atlantic 10] tournament, so we’ve come a long way. There’s no guarantees or anything, but I tell you what, we beat one of the hottest teams in the country.”
The Colonials bolstered their NCAA tournament résumé and ended Saint Joseph’s six-game winning streak that put the Hawks in second place in the Atlantic 10. GW also ended a three-game slide to its conference opponent thanks in part to getting to the foul line 24 times in the second half. The Colonials attempted three free throws in the first half.
The Hawks (21-8, 11-4) began the second half by growing a two-point margin at the break to 40-33 with 17 minutes left. The Colonials, meanwhile, ended a 6:42 stretch without a field goal when Garino scored on a driving layup while getting fouled.
Soon after, Armwood elevated for an emphatic block to thwart a fast break, and GW proceeded to get within 44-40 during a surge that included a technical foul charged to the Hawks’ DeAndre Bembry. Creek drew the Colonials even closer when his three-pointer with 12:33 to go made it 48-45.
The Hawks responded by scoring seven of the next nine for their largest lead of the second half, but GW pushed back with eight in a row to tie, and after Bembry made 1 of 2 foul shots, Kevin Larsen’s reverse layup gave the Colonials a 57-56 lead with 7:30 to play, setting up the frantic conclusion.
Everything was going GW’s way midway through the first half when it switched to a 1-3-1 defense and scrapped the more conventional 2-3 zone. That move triggered a 15-2 surge that yielded a 30-16 advantage with 5:32 left until intermission.
But the Hawks finally were able to solve the 1-3-1, and that translated into a disastrous close to the first half for GW. The Colonials went without a point the rest of the way, and Saint Joseph’s rattled off 16 unanswered during a counterattack in which five players scored.
“Just play solid," Armwood said when asked how the Colonials overcame that flurry. "That's the main thing. No unforced turnovers. We did that a lot late in the first half. That's why they went on a run. No turnovers on offense, and we did what we were supposed to do."