George Washington men’s basketball Coach Mike Lonergan said before departing for Hawaii last week to play in the Diamond Head Classic that he intended to use the trip as mostly business but part relaxation for both him and his players.
He wasn’t kidding about either.
The on-court portion of the stay in paradise concluded on Christmas with a victory over then-No. 11 Wichita State in one of Lonergan’s defining moments since arriving in Foggy Bottom four years ago with the assignment of rebuilding the program.
The night before that triumph, Lonergan donned leafy island headwear, a hula skirt and a bikini top made in part from two coconut shells to dance with locals at a luau. There’s even a Vine documenting the event players may have enjoyed as much as, if not more than, winning GW’s first in-season tournament title since the 2004 BB&T Classic and its first outside the area since the 1995 Sacramento Holiday Classic.
Then the Colonials came home to frosty temperatures and had to play VMI on Tuesday night in their final nonconference tuneup before opening Atlantic 10 competition against Saint Joseph’s. The predictable Hawaii hangover lasted through the first half at Smith Center, but GW came out of the locker room rejuvenated enough to earn an 80-60 victory.
The Colonials (10-3) placed four players in double figures, including junior guard Kethan Savage who scored a game-high 18 points. Junior forward Patricio Garino had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and center Kevin Larsen added 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“We definitely weren’t focused enough,” said Lonergan, referring particularly to the first half. “We’ve been back for a few days. The trip should be out of us. God knows we enjoyed it, and we celebrated a win. We’re still smiling because of that, and it was great, but I don’t know, we were still sloppy, a little bit sloppy at home.”
Still, GW won for the 20th time in 21 games at Smith Center, limiting the Keydets to a shade below 30 percent shooting. VMI (5-8) made only 8 of 36 three-pointers, and only reserve guard QJ Peterson scored in double digits with 11 points. But even he made only 3 of 21 shots and went 1 for 11 from three-point range.
The Colonials have won four in a row and seven of eight. They enter Atlantic 10 play as the preseason pick to finish second behind VCU after tying for third last year.
“I think we bonded and came together to get 3-0 out there,” Savage said of the trip to Hawaii, which included wins against Ohio and Colorado. “I think it was a good trip for us.”
The triumphs over the Buffaloes and Wichita State were the eighth and ninth for GW when facing teams from conferences with top 10 RPIs since the start of last season, with two wins each against ACC and Big East schools.
The Colonials last beat a team ranked as high as the Shockers in the 2004 BB&T Classic, when they defeated No. 11 Michigan State at Verizon Center. GW scored its second victory over a top 20 program in as many seasons after having beaten No. 20 Creighton in the 2013 Wooden Legacy.
“To go to Hawaii and win a tournament is something that not everyone gets a chance to do,” Garino said. “I think it brought us together. I think we were very mature against Wichita State and Colorado and I think we made plays at end of the games. Even though it didn’t show today at the beginning of the game, I think we’re more confident now.”