RICHMOND — The rim had not been kind to George Washington’s Joe McDonald most of Tuesday night. The ball rattled around and out multiple times for the point guard, yet with the game in the balance in the closing stages, the sophomore continued to shoot.
Good thing for the Colonials, who went ahead to stay on McDonald’s driving layup with four minutes left in regulation, then made six consecutive foul shots over the final 13 seconds to escape with a 73-65 victory over Richmond in front of 5,877 at Robins Center.
In ending a season-long two-game skid and reaching 20 wins for the first time since 2006-07, George Washington (20-6, 8-4 Atlantic 10) secured a considerable Atlantic 10 triumph on two fronts.
For starters, the Colonials moved into fourth place with four games left until the conference tournament. The top four seeds earn double byes into the quarterfinals and avoid having to play potentially five games in as many days.
Next, George Washington wrested the tiebreaker from the Spiders (17-9, 7-4), who began the night tied for third place in the Atlantic 10 after having won three consecutive games.
“Every game is important now this time of the year,” GW Coach Mike Lonergan said. “I was just proud of our guys. We hung in there. We made enough plays at the end and made our free throws finally. That was definitely a much needed win for us.”
The Colonials also benefitted from a tweak in the starting lineup, with Lonergan bringing Maurice Creek off the bench. The guard had started 23 of 24 games, but the move was designed to energize the Colonials’ reserves, who had combined for 11 points over the past two games.
Creek finished with a team-high 16 points, including 12 in the second half. The transfer from Indiana who grew up in Oxon Hill made a contested one-handed shot off the glass with his right hand for a 66-63 lead with 2:26 to play after freshman ShawnDre’ Jones (career-high 25 points, 10-for-14 shooting) sank a three-pointer to draw Richmond within a point.
The Spiders had a chance to cut even more into the lead with 35 seconds to play, but guard Trey Davis missed the front end of a one-and-one, underscoring this team’s free throw shooting foibles. Richmond missed 8 of 14 from the line, including 6 of 11 in the second half.
After Davis’s miss, there was a scramble for the loose ball, and McDonald emerged from the scrum with control. He immediately turned up the court and got fouled dribbling along the right sideline in advance of sinking the second of two free throws for a 67-63 advantage with 28 seconds to play.
The Colonials did the rest from the line, where they finished 22 for 31 (71 percent). GW entered third to last in the Atlantic 10 in free throw shooting percentage (64).
For his part, McDonald (Landon) made 4 of 5 free throws in the second half and was able to shake off 3-for-11 shooting prior to his decisive layup. McDonald followed that shot with a pull-up jumper in the lane that swirled around the rim but this time fell through for a 64-60 lead.
McDonald wound up with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists without a turnover and was one of five Colonials to score in double figures. Senior forward Isaiah Armwood had 14 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore forward Kevin Larsen (Montrose Christian) chipped in 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, although he missed 6 of 11 from the line.
“Like Coach said earlier, he wanted the guards to be a little more aggressive,” McDonald said. “I tried to do that first half. The shots weren’t really falling, but I just had to stay confident. Their two guards, they’re kind of small, so I just wanted to try and take advantage of that.”