With roughly four minutes to play Saturday afternoon, George Washington’s Patricio Garino collected a pass from fellow freshman Joe McDonald on a fast break, dribbled several times and elevated for a one-handed dunk that brought the raucous Smith Center crowd to its feet.
Even Colonials Coach Mike Lonergan celebrated a bit, and why not, considering his team played its most complete game of the season in an 82-54 dismantling of Charlotte that bumped George Washington within sight of first place in the Atlantic 10.
Garino finished with a team-high 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the Colonials’ third consecutive victory and sixth in nine games, and Lasan Kromah and Bryan Bynes each added 12 points in a benchmark win for Lonergan since he took over the program in 2011.
The victory lifted the Colonials (10-9, 4-2) into a five-way tie for second place in the Atlantic 10, one-half game behind first-place Butler. Charlotte (16-4, 4-2) entered leading the conference in a handful of meaningful statistical categories, including field goal percentage defense (37.2), but the Colonials made it look easy at times, shooting 53 percent.
“We just really wanted to play team ball, move around and not really stay stationary with the ball and execute,” said Kromah, a reserve senior guard who shot 4 for 8 with five rebounds and three steals. “We wanted them to chase us and really have to play defense. We made a couple good passes, and fortunately for us we made [shots]. We just tried to stay consistent for the whole 40 minutes.”
While the Colonials shot their third highest percentage of the season and had 10 players score, they limited Charlotte to a season-low 32 percent, including 3 for 18 on three-pointers, forced 17 turnovers and had 17 assists on 25 field goals. Only one of the 49ers’ starters shot better than 38 percent, and the starting front court combined to miss 7 of 9 shots.
George Washington also made 27 of 34 free throws (79 percent), shooting 10 percentage points higher than its season average. The Colonials owned especially lopsided advantages in bench points, 43-10, rebounding, 40-27, and points off turnovers, 24-14, over Charlotte, which began the afternoon first in the Atlantic 10 in rebounds (38.6) and fourth in rebounding margin (plus-four).
“We’re playing more aggressive, and we’re starting to learn how to close games,” Garino said. “We couldn’t win a couple of games that were pretty close, so we’re finding a way to close the tough games, and that helps a lot. Our confidence is pretty up right now.”
After opening a double-digit lead early in the first half, George Washington began to pull away after Kromah’s three-point play made it 64-47 with 8 minutes 6 seconds left in regulation. McDonald (eight points, five assists, four rebounds, one turnover) followed with a pair of free throws, and Bynes scored five consecutive points for a 71-50 lead.
Kromah made two more foul shots before McDonald gathered a loose ball and delivered a pass to Garino for a dunk, and Garino scored another field goal moments later that swelled the margin to 77-50.
The 49ers were left to shoot desperation three-pointers down the stretch, but true to their last-place ranking in the conference in that category, they missed all 11 of their attempts in the second half.
“We felt that we really had to play tough today,” Lonergan said. “They’re so strong and athletic. We did a great job on the boards. Some of our guards really got in there and rebounded that normally we don’t get a lot of rebounds from.”