The George Washington men’s basketball team concluded the first half of its Atlantic 10 schedule by forging a 19-point lead over Duquesne on Wednesday night only to have that margin dwindle to several possessions before a closing surge yielded a 71-57 victory in front of 3,047 at Smith Center.
The Colonials are 11-0 at home and won for the sixth time in seven games, their lone setback coming in Saturday’s 75-65 loss to Dayton, when they played without three starters. The team got back two against the Dukes, most notably point guard Joe McDonald (Landon).
The sophomore landed hard on the Smith Center court during the first half of a win against La Salle Jan. 29 and did not make the trip to Dayton. He was questionable to play against the Dukes but finished with a game-high six assists and six rebounds.
Also back for the Colonials (18-4, 6-2 Atlantic 10) was Maurice Creek, who was an unexpected scratch at Dayton because of an illness. The guard came off the bench to play 21 minutes Wednesday but missed all five of his field goal attempts and had four of the Colonials’ 15 turnovers.
Still, the mere presence of two members of the starting back court proved invaluable for Coach Mike Lonergan, who was able to substitute more liberally and allow the likes of forward Nemanja Mikic to thrive.
“It helps a lot,” Lonergan said. “It helps with some of our role players. It takes the pressure off them, even if they just see those guys. I knew Nemanja would play much better. When Maurice is playing, Nemanja is much better.”
Mikic (11 points) was one of four Colonials to score in double figures. Guard Patricio Garino finished with a game-high 17 points and added five rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal, and forward Kevin Larsen (Montrose Christian) scored nine of his 13 points in the second half.
Larsen also had seven rebounds, four assists and two steals without a turnover. The sophomore was among eight players with at least one assist for the Colonials, who had 23 on 26 field goals and outscored Duquesne in the paint, 36-26.
The Colonials were able to overcome 52 percent (13 of 25) free throw shooting and 15 turnovers in part because they held Duquesne to 0 for 13 on three-pointers in the second half.
The closest the Dukes (10-11, 2-6) got after the break was 40-34 with 16 minutes 55 seconds to play.
But Mikic’s three-pointer grew GW’s lead to 49-39 with 12:42 left, and after the Dukes trimmed it to 50-43, Garino converted a three-point play.
Larsen followed with two quick baskets, and GW was on its way to moving within a half game of Virginia Commonwealth for second place in the conference.
“We’re very confident at home no matter who we play or what the score is,” Garino said. “We’re confident we’re going to pull it out.”
The Colonials were in position to pull away for good following four consecutive three-pointers in the first half.
Duquesne came storming back though behind Micah Mason, who made three three-pointers in the first half to help whittle a 30-11 deficit to 36-30 at halftime.
Dominique McKoy led Duquesne with 14 points, and Ovie Soko had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Mason finished with 11 points, all in the first half.
“That was probably the first halftime where I really went off a little bit,” Lonergan said. “I thought we did a pretty good job in the second half. We didn’t shoot as well from three, and we definitely struggled from the free throw line, but our inside guys played another strong game.”