During a season in which it regularly has pushed, and in some instances beaten, the top tier of the Atlantic 10, the George Washington men’s basketball team allowed one of its least imposing opponents to stay in contention throughout because of balky foul shooting before outlasting Fordham, 68-60, Wednesday night at Smith Center.
Missing 20 of 37 free throws for its second-lowest percentage this season, George Washington withstood some anxious moments down the stretch when the Rams began fouling. The Colonials missed 6 of 10 from the line in the last 79 seconds, and the conference’s second-to-last-place team managed to get within 66-60 with one minute to play on a pair of free throws by Mandell Thomas.
The Colonials clamped down defensively thereafter and were able to end a two-game losing streak and move above .500 in the Atlantic 10 thanks to a season-high 15 points from freshman forward Kevin Larsen and senior guard Lasan Kromah’s 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
“It got to the point where we weren’t even making one out of two, and it kept them in the game,” George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan said of the wayward foul shooting. “It’s a shame because it took away from a really good defensive effort by our team. It got to the point where it was ridiculous. People were even booing. I probably would have booed if I paid for my ticket.”
George Washington (12-12, 6-5 Atlantic 10) did log a season-high 17 steals, including four each from Kromah and freshman guard Patricio Garino, shot 56 percent in the first half to finish at 45 for the game and forced 22 turnovers. The Colonials scored 27 points off those takeaways to just 13 for the Rams on 14 turnovers by George Washington.
Despite a slim rebounding advantage of 39-35, George Washington overpowered Fordham inside. The Colonials were well ahead on points in the paint, 44-20, and second-chance points, 20-7, and seven players had at least three rebounds. Senior forward Isaiah Armwood led the charge with 12 rebounds, and Larsen added five.
“We talked about it a lot throughout the week, about getting in to Isaiah and me,” Larsen said. “It was Isaiah who created the most havoc. He got five offensive rebounds, so I’m just trying to feed off Isaiah.”
The Colonials also received a boost from the bench, which contributed 28 points. In addition to Kromah’s scoring, other notable reserve contributions included Dwayne Smith’s eight points and five points, three rebounds and two assists from senior guard Bryan Bynes, who played with a sore knee.
George Washington took the lead for good with 10 minutes 22 seconds to play in the first half on Nemanja Mikic’s jumper that was part of a 13-3 run. Kromah followed with a steal and dunk, and Larsen made consecutive foul shots and added a jumper for a 23-15 margin.
The Colonials expanded the lead to 60-47 with 5:14 left in regulation on another Larsen free throw, and at that point it appeared George Washington was set to pull away for good. But the cavalcade of missed free throws continued, and the Rams (6-21, 2-10) remained within striking distance despite shooting 29 percent in the second half.
It was the third time in four games George Washington has shot 56 percent or worse from the foul line. In their most recent game, the Colonials missed 11 of 25 free throws in an 84-57 loss at Virginia Commonwealth.
“Tonight was real tough night at the line,” said Kromah, who missed 5 of 6 free throws. “Throughout the week we have been working on free throws and really trying to be on point on it and be consistent, but I felt like we just couldn’t get it in the basket tonight. It’s all mental at the free throw line, so we’re just going to work on that and make sure we do better the next game.