George Washington's impressive start included dealing with one tough break. That experience should help the Colonials at George Mason on Saturday and over the second half of the season as they deal with another.
GW (15-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) announced earlier this week that sophomore guard Kethan Savage, the team's second-leading scorer, will miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured metatarsal in his left foot. Fellow sophomore Patricio Garino, who started every game as a freshman, will take over Savage's spot. Of course, Savage became a starter after Garino suffered a broken finger before the season opened. The Colonials top all-around player, Garino eventually had surgery and missed seven of the initial 11 games.
Thanks in part to the assertive Savage raising his scoring average from 3.1 points as a freshman to 13.4 points this season, George Washington went 10-1 in that stretch including wins over Creighton and Maryland. The bulk of the A-10 schedule remains and Savage is expected to miss most or all of it. Once again George Washington must figure out to not just survive but also thrive without a key figure.
"We've been through this before when we had [Garino] out in the beginning," sophomore point guard Joe McDonald said. "I think we'll figure out the way to handle it the right way."
The Colonials first test without Savage comes Saturday at the Patriot Center against George Mason (7-12, 0-5) in the first meeting as conference foes. Television coverage begins at 12 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.
The most improved player on George Washington's thin roster, Savage also leads the team in steals (2.0), ranks second in assists (2.7) while grabbing 4.6 rebounds and shooting 52 percent from the field.
"It's tough, it's devastating if you let it be," GW coach Mike Lonergan said before Thursday's practice. "I really feel for bad for [Kethan] first and foremost. The kid was having an all-conference type of year in his sophomore season. He was playing great, quadrupling his stats. Shoot, he might have been our MVP the way he was playing. But injuries are part of the game. He's still got a lot of career left in him. We have to move on."
Garino is no slouch of a replacement. One of the top perimeter defenders in the conference, the 6-foot-6 Argentine scored a career-high 25 points in the Colonials 76-66 win over A-10 preseason favorite VCU on January 14.
The concern is what comes behind the Colonials' potent starting five, which also includes guard Maurice Creek plus big men Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen. Senior forward and 3-point shooting threat Nemanja Mikic will receive extra minutes and power forward John Kopriva provides energy inside, but Lonergan will rely on his starters most of all.
"We definitely have to somebody step up, but nobody on our team can do what Kethan did," said Lonergan, referring to Savage's ability to penetrate and finish at the rim. "It's not strength of any of our guys coming off the bench now. We'll have to become a better outside shooting team. We're going to have to do a better job of getting the ball inside. Maybe we'll have to play more 1-3-1 [zone defense] because we'll have to guard against foul trouble more than anything."
Perhaps most of all, the Colonials must follow advice Lonergan received back in his playing days and again following his team's latest injury.
"My High School football coach always told his players 'next man up.'" Lonergan said. "About 10 of them messaged me, Facebooked me [this week] and said 'next man up.' We'll never forget about Kethan. He's going to be part of it, he's going to help coach from the bench, but it's definitely going to be next man up. A lot of guys have to step up."