Fresh from the euphoria of Saturday’s last-second victory over Dayton, which allowed its season to continue, the George Washington men’s basketball team arrived in New York on Tuesday, roughly two and a half days before tip-off of its first-round game in the Atlantic 10 tournament at Barclays Center.
Colonials Coach Mike Lonergan brought his players to Brooklyn well ahead of schedule so they could absorb the full tournament experience of traveling and exploring another city in addition to playing a basketball game.
Eleventh-seeded George Washington will do that Thursday night at 9 against Massachusetts, the No. 6 seed, but regardless of the outcome, the Colonials’ second-year coach is making it a point for his youthful team to remember what this all feels like, and just as important, ensuring the ambition remains to achieve even more in subsequent seasons.
George Washington (13-16, 7-9) reached this point thanks to an 81-80 overtime win against Dayton in the regular season finale. With 2.4 seconds to play, senior forward Isaiah Armwood’s tip dunk off Lasan Kromah’s missed layup was the difference, and since has become an immediate part of the basketball lore in Foggy Bottom.
“We’ve been very competitive with the best teams on our schedule, and if we would have lost that game and ended on a four- or five-game losing streak, you don’t really have enough to show for it,” Lonergan said. “Really to have some of the fruits of our labors and for the guys to build on for the future, I thought it was very important to make it to Brooklyn.”
Bryan Bynes placed such a high degree of significance on qualifying for the Atlantic 10 tournament that the senior guard played Saturday despite suffering a tibial plateau fracture in his right knee less than three weeks earlier. Shortly after he and Dwayne Smith were honored in pregame ceremony on senior day, Bynes scored a season-high 13 points in his first game since the athletic department issued a statement indicating the Colonials’ best on-ball defender would be lost for the season.
All the more improbable was Bynes logging a season-high 31 minutes after an extended period of inactivity to rest his ailing knee, which he injured Feb. 20 in the first half of a 68-60 win against Fordham. Bynes had a chance to beat the Flyers in regulation, but his bank shot caromed off the rim as time expired.
“When he went down, he was already playing the best basketball on the team,” Armwood said of Bynes. “With him coming back, fighting through injury, it just made us want it.”
An MRI exam revealed the fracture a day after the Fordham game, and with Bynes out of the lineup, the Colonials lost their next four by an average of 11 points. In addition to his defensive prowess, Bynes also serves as a primary ballhandler along with starting freshman point guard Joe McDonald (Landon). George Washington at times played unsettled without one of its senior leaders.
Bynes began feeling appreciably less discomfort approximately 10 days after the injury, and around at that time he approached the coaching staff about perhaps trying to come back. A team doctor soon cleared Bynes to play, and when Bynes was able to participate in practice the day before the Dayton game, he was introduced in the starting lineup at Smith Center the next afternoon.
Bynes is expected to be in the lineup again Thursday, when the Colonials try for a second win over Massachusetts (19-10, 9-7) this season. George Washington won the first meeting, 79-76, in Amherst, Mass., and had four players score in double figures, including McDonald’s team highs of 16 points and 10 assists.
The Colonials have lost in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament each of the past three seasons. This season, they narrowly qualified for the tournament, which features the league’s top 12 finishers.
“We’re really talking about taking the next step and winning a game,” Bynes said. “I want to win a game in the Atlantic 10 tournament this year. And at Barclays? It’s going to be a great setting.”