Team basketball isn't just a saying for George Washington or a mere concept for the Foggy Bottom program. It's how the Colonials operate and how they must survive while down a key scorer for several weeks. The latest winning effort required a deeper than usual rotation early. With a second half surge, the starters finished fast and finished off George Mason.
George Washington's starting five scored 21 of the Colonials' 29 points in the first half. Actually, that's a rather misleading stat. Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino accounted for nearly all of the points. Maurice Creek, Isaiah Armwood and Joe McDonald entered halftime having barely made a ripple in the box score. Foul trouble and game flow led to GW's little used reserves played heavy minutes early.
At halftime the Colonials (16-3, 4-1) trailed 30-29 in the first-ever matchup with George Mason as Atlantic 10 foes. GW, which had a vocal section of fans at the Patriot Center, entered the day one-game behind conference-leading St. Louis.
Led by Armwood's power, McDonald's scoring and Creek's dishing, GW led by 10 points less than eight minutes into the second half. The "Revolutionary Rivalry" became a runaway even if the 75-69 final score suggested otherwise.
“It’s great for the DMV,” GW Coach Mike Lonergan said of the matchup which takes place again on March 2 at the Smith Center. “For the area, for the conference and for the schools, it’s terrific. For our students, too. We had a lot of students. They put them up in the cheap seats – I couldn’t really see them. Great crowd. I’m excited for when [the Patriots] come to our place."
Armwood scored only two points during four first-half minutes. Creek, the Colonials leading scorer on the season, also had two, which was two more than McDonald had.
Whether it was facing a George Mason (7-13, 0-6) squad that has perpetually blown halftime leads -and lost seven straight - or simply staying on the court, everything changed immediately after the halftime break.
"We started scoring. We struggled to score late in the first half," GW coach Mike Lonergan said following his team's fourth straight win. "Isaiah sat a lot with foul trouble, but he played more [after halftime]. We made some baskets, did a good of going inside the whole game and our 1-3-1 was pretty effective at least early on in the second half."
The three early non-factors scored 16 points during an 18-5 run and carried the Colonials to a 16-point lead. McDonald made 5 of 6 shots and scored 14 points. Known more for his 3-point shooting, Creek had six of his career-high seven assists over the final 20 minutes and finished with 11 points.
Armwood consistently scored at the rim, tallying 10 of his 12 in the second half.
"There wasn't that much of a difference," the stoic Armwood said about his tale of two halves. "I just took advantage of driving the ball."
There was certainly a difference statistically with the Colonials, who shot 42 percent before halftime and a staggering 66.7 percent (18 of 27) in the second half. GW finished with 20 assists on 29 field goal attempts.
"Couple of turnovers that led to easy baskets for them and that gave them a working margin," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt. "Then it became a battle of trading finishes around the rim. They finished."
George Mason couldn't take advantage of the Colonials using their reserves throughout the first half. Between Armwood's fouls and the first game without injured second-leading Kethan Savage, Lonergan turned to his bench early and throughout the first half.
"Everybody is going to have to step it up," Lonergan said in reference to Savage's absence and all five of his starters scoring in double figures. "I thought it was big for us that Nemanja Mikic had four rebounds and John Kopriva had [season-high] six rebounds. That's the one good thing about our team. We really are a team. We had 20 assists today and I like to see that balanced scoring."