GW pushes another highly-regarded team to the brink before falling at Smith Center. (Richard Lipski/Associated Press)

In a season filled with near misses, the George Washington men’s basketball team again came agonizingly close to an upset of a highly regarded conference opponent, this time pushing 18th-ranked Saint Louis for most of the game before succumbing down the stretch, 66-58, on Saturday in front of 3,258 at Smith Center.

After trailing for the entire first half, the Colonials finally claimed the lead for the first time with 14 minutes 17 seconds to play and owned a 48-45 advantage with 7:12 left in regulation. But the Billikens reeled off the next 10 points, eight from the free throw line, and limited George Washington to one field goal over the next five minutes to send the Colonials to their fifth loss in six games.

Freshman forward Kevin Larsen led the Colonials (12-15, 6-8 Atlantic 10) with 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting and had four rebounds, and senior guard Lasan Kromah added 12 points, four assists and three rebounds.

Senior forward Dwayne Smith (10 points) was the only other Colonials player to reach double figures while senior forward Isaiah Armwood collected 10 of George Washington’s 32 rebounds to go along with five points, five blocks, two assists and two steals.

“Up three with seven minutes, three timeouts left, I thought we were in great shape,” George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan said. “But definitely had some costly turnovers, and we had trouble getting to the line and trouble scoring.”

Despite shooting 37 percent in the first half, the Colonials stayed within reach of the Atlantic 10 leader by scoring more points in the paint (44-30), points off turnovers (16-9) and bench points (25-18). George Washington forced 16 turnovers, the third most Saint Louis has committed this season, and for a time confounded the Billikens by moving into a 1-3-1 zone defense.

George Washington’s undoing came in part at the foul line, where it missed 7 of 15 attempts. The Colonials’ free throw percentage of 53.3 was its second lowest in nine games and represented the seventh time they have shot 56 percent or worse from the foul line.

Saint Louis (23-5, 12-2), meantime, made 21 of 24 (88 percent) of its free throws, including 8 of 9 by junior forward Dwayne Evans, who finished with game highs of 22 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell added 18 points, and junior guard Jordair Jett had 11 points and went 5 for 5 from the free throw line in the Billikens’ 11th consecutive win.

“We just had some defensive breakdowns,” said Kromah, who made 6 of 9 shots. “They shot a lot of free throws, and they made a lot of free throws. We were just sending them to the line. We were really trying to speed up the tempo with the 1-3-1 and really get the ball out of the shooters’ hands, but they kept getting to the free throw line and kept making free throws.”

The Colonials lost their 10th game of the season by single digits in throwing a scare into a ranked opponent for a second time. Three weeks ago at Smith Center, George Washington came roaring back from a 17-point deficit against then-No. 14 Butler before losing, 59-56.

George Washington, which with two games to play remains in contention for one of the final spots in the Atlantic 10 tournament, has not beaten a ranked opponent at Smith Center since 1998, when it upset No. 18 Xavier.

“I feel like, yes, we are getting close definitely,” Larsen said. “We’ve just got to keep continuing to work hard and put a full game together.”