Author Archives: Jeff Pawling
The Colonials finished their non-conference schedule strong with four straight wins and a championship at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Let’s take a look at where GW stands right now as conference play gets set to begin on Saturday.
Current Record: 10-3, T-3rd in Atlantic 10
High Point: Defeating #11 Wichita State to Win the Diamond Head Classic
When the Diamond Head Classic field was released last year, the team that immediately stuck out to most GW fans was Wichita State. One could not help but hope for a potential showdown with the Shockers, a team that embarked on a Final Four run two seasons ago and an undefeated regular season last year.
The Colonials got their matchup in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic after disposing of Ohio and squeezing by Colorado. The game against the 11th-ranked team in the country began the same way the Colonials’ previous games against big-time opponents had. GW was holding their own but could not gain any separation. And with 9:45 remaining, it looked like the game would go the route of Virginia and Penn State, with the Shockers coasting to a comfortable double-digit victory. However, the Colonials had other ideas on Christmas Night, embarking on a 23-9 run down the stretch to win 60-54. It was easily GW’s best win of the season thus far, as they held Wichita State to 34 percent shooting and their leading scorers Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet to a combined 20 points. It was the type of win that led to pure elation for both the team and the fan base, which had waited for this squad to show their full potential. On Christmas Night, the Colonials did just that, dispelling any notions that they were a chronic underachieving squad.
Low Point: 58-54 Loss at Seton Hall
Of the Colonials’ three losses, this one may not be the most deflating (that would be the loss at Virginia) but it is certainly the most disappointing because of GW’s lack of execution in the final minutes. The Colonials had three chances to tie or take the lead in the final 90 seconds, but instead of getting the big shot they needed, the possessions ended in disaster, with Kethan Savage ending two of the final three possessions with a turnover. GW turned the ball over 18 times in the game and missed five free throws in the loss. Reverse either of those statistics and this loss becomes a solid road win over a Big East team that looks better and better with each passing game. The loss is not the low point of the season because they were upset by a lesser team or got run off the court, it is because it was a game they had every chance to win and then some.
Midseason MVP: Patricio Garino
It is hard to ignore the season Patricio Garino is having thus far. With non-conference play in the books, Garino has gotten it done on both ends of the floor, averaging 13.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game. He is 14th in the Atlantic 10 in scoring, ninth in field goal percentage, and second in steals and has gained notice nationwide for his play. During a three-game stretch from December 4-11, Garino was especially red hot, averaging 21 points on a 69 percent clip from the field. He was nothing short of incredible for the Buff and Blue in the first half of the season and Mike Lonergan and the coaching staff can only hope that he continues this pace in conference play.
Most Surprising Player: Yuta Watanabe
Watanabe was the preseason x-factor for this team because of his height and length. However, as a true freshman becoming only the fourth Japanese-born player in Division I college basketball history, most would not blame him if he had to endure a lengthy transition to the collegiate level. Instead, Yuta has hit the ground running for GW in the first half of the season, averaging seven points and four rebounds a game and posing as a threat from beyond the arc. Furthermore, his play has pushed starter John Kopriva to play at a high level just to hold on to his starting job. Watanabe still has room for improvement as his game is not totally refined just yet, but considering his role essentially as a sixth man playing a position of weakness for the Colonials, Yuta has been a revelation for Mike Lonergan and his staff.
Conference Play X-Factor: Kevin Larsen
Larsen had an up-and-down non-conference season, with strong performances against lesser opponents and invisible performances against major conference teams. Early on, his inconsistency was holding GW back to a degree as the team was unable to establish a presence down low without him setting the tone. But as of late, Larsen has come alive in terms of his level of play and his consistency. He was the biggest reason for the Colonials’ triumph at the Diamond Head Classic, averaging 11.3 points on 48 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds in the three games, thereby earning tournament MVP honors. But even before the trip to Honolulu, Larsen had shown signs of coming alive with 18 points and eight rebounds in the win over DePaul and 15 points and 13 rebounds in the loss at Penn State. Larsen is playing his best basketball of the season right now as conference play gets set to start and the Colonials will need him to keep up this level of play in order to emerge at the top of the Atlantic 10.
After an up-and-down start in which the Colonials had shown signs of the pitfalls that had held them back in previous years, GW is currently playing their best basketball of the season. The hope is that the momentum garnered from their upset over Wichita State and their triumph in paradise will carry over into Atlantic 10 play. A 12-6 conference record would get them to my preseason prediction of 22 regular season wins, but if they can build on their recent success and cut down on some of their flaws (turnovers and missed free throws), the Colonials could easily take advantage of what is expected to be a down year overall for the conference and exceed 12 conference wins. This would give the Colonials a real shot at toppling VCU and Dayton for the Atlantic 10 title.
With non-conference play in the books, it’s time to take a look at where Jonathan Tsipis and his George Washington Colonials stand right now and just how far they could go as Atlantic 10 Conference play gets set to begin this weekend.
Current Record: 11-2, 1st in Atlantic 10
High Point: Winning the Freeport Division of the 2014 Junkanoo Jam
The Colonials trip to the Bahamas was billed, above all else, as a homecoming for standout Jonquel Jones. Yet, in the process, the stage became a coming out for Jonathan Tsipis’ squad as a force to watch. GW dispatched of North Carolina State and Purdue, both solid major conference teams, to win the Freeport Division of the tournament, led by Jones’ 36 points and 23 rebounds in the two games combined. Chakecia Miller and Lauren Chase also put together outstanding performances for the Colonials and were keys to both wins by solidifying the backcourt. In all, it is hard to find a single negative thing that came from GW’s trip to the Bahamas and, frankly, the tournament triumph can be pointed to as spurring on the Colonials’ torrid play and current nine-game winning streak.
Low Point: 75-65 Loss to Maryland
For one half, it seemed that GW was more than ready to hang with #9/8 Maryland right down to the final whistle, taking a 30-29 lead into the locker room at halftime. However, the second half was a nightmare for the Colonials as they were held to 38.5 percent shooting while allowing the Lady Terps to shoot 60 percent in a 10-point defeat. GW battled until the very end, but it is hard to ignore the fact that the second half was the most disheartening stretch of basketball this team has played all season, as they were thoroughly dominated in all facets of the game. Looking back, the loss seems like it happened an eternity ago, as the Colonials have played extremely good basketball ever since. But at the time, the Maryland loss raised a lot of questions about how good the team was and created the most discontent among supporters of the season.
Midseason MVP: Jonquel Jones
What more can be said about Jonquel Jones. After missing the first three games of the season, Jones returned to the team and immediately picked up where she left off last year as the main difference-maker for the Colonials. Jones averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in non-conference play and got it done on the defensive end with 16 blocks and six steals. Furthermore, she shot the ball with efficiency, making 53.5 percent of her attempts. Statistics like these explain why she has already racked up numerous accolades this year. In addition to her Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division MVP and numerous preseason honors, she has earned two Atlantic 10 Player of the Week awards and was recognized as a Naismith Trophy candidate. She is the key cog for GW and should continue on that path as the conference season begins.
Most Surprising Player: Kelli Prange
This one was tough to decide as the Colonials have had a few players emerge as key factors to their strong start. However, Kelli Prange gets the recognition because of what she has been able to do as a true freshman. Coming in, coaches and pundits knew that Prange was extremely talented and could contribute in her first collegiate season. However, the level at which she has played has been nothing short of incredible from day one. Prange was thrust into a starting role immediately with Jonquel Jones unavailable in each of the Colonials’ first three games. She responded with 24 points and 12 rebounds in the season opener at Florida Gulf Coast, earning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week accolades. Furthermore, she helped pick up some of the slack created not just by Jones’ absence, but also by Caira Washington’s slow start to the season. She is the team’s second leading scorer with 11.4 points per game on a crisp 49 percent shooting. We knew Prange, at 6’5”, would be a contributor this year. We just did not know she would be this good this soon.
Conference Play X-Factor: Lauren Chase
Coming into the season, many were not sure exactly what the Colonials would get out of Lauren Chase, the transfer point guard who missed all of last season with a personal medical condition. It was this type of uncertainty that created the notion that the backcourt could be the one facet that would hold GW back from taking the next step into the Atlantic 10’s elite. However, Chase proved to be a welcome presence for Jonathan Tsipis, solidifying the point guard role and easing the loss of the graduated Danni Jackson. Chase is currently the team’s fourth leading scorer with 9.1 points per game and has also chipped in 4.8 assists a contest. Her sharp play down the stretch in the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division title game sealed the win for the Colonials and, overall, she has been able to run the offense and take care of the ball just the way her coaches want her to.
However, she missed four non-conference games due to injury before returning in GW’s final non-conference tilt at Towson on New Year’s Eve. Coach Tsipis and his staff need Chase to be healthy as Atlantic 10 action begins. While the rest of the Colonial guards were able to hold down the fort in her absence, it remains to be seen whether those same guards can continue their good play against formidable opponents like Dayton, who they face right off the bat on January 4th. But if Chase can continue where she left off before her injury, GW can continue to ascend into the conference’s upper echelon.
Bottomline: Sky’s the Limit for the Colonials
At 11-2, the Colonials are undoubtedly in great shape. The biggest question left is whether GW can continue their impressive play into the gauntlet that is the Atlantic 10 portion of their schedule. As was mentioned above, GW tips off their conference slate with what is probably their toughest A10 tilt, a road matchup with Dayton. The Colonials are red hot right now on a nine-game winning streak, but a trip to preseason favorite Dayton is just about the worst draw the Colonials could have gotten to start their conference season. How GW fares in Dayton, win or lose, will tell us a lot about what to expect the rest of the way.
However, based on their play, there is no reason to shy away from my preseason prediction of 24 wins for this GW team. I admit that essentially predicting a 13-3 conference record is bullish, but this team has shown that the backcourt is not a liability, as was originally thought prior to the season, and that their frontcourt, when at full capacity, is among the best in the nation. The sky truly is the limit for this team this season and it should be fun to watch the rest of the way.
It was not easy at any point for GW on Christmas Night in Honolulu, but the Colonials rode a gritty team performance on defense and timely shooting to upset #11 Wichita State 60-54 and win the 2014 Diamond Head Classic.
Kethan Savage led the way offensively for the Colonials with 12 points on 5-11 shooting while Kevin Larsen (Diamond Head Classic MVP) and Yuta Watanabe each added 10 points in the shocking victory. The team, as a whole, shot 51 percent from the field, making the fact that the Colonials’ top scorer only finished with 12 points even more surprising. Yet, it is a testament to just how much of a team effort this win was for the Buff and Blue.
Another big factor in the win was GW’s three-point shooting. The Colonials were 9-15 from beyond the arc on Thursday night, their best clip of the season. Furthermore, GW held Wichita State to a 34 percent clip from the field overall, their worst team shooting percentage of the season as Shockers Head Coach Gregg Marshall and his staff had difficulty deciphering the Colonials’ 1-3-1 Zone. The defense was able to contain Wichita State’s leading scorers Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet to a combined 20 points on 8-27 shooting.
But despite all of that, things looked bleak for the Colonials when the Shockers took their largest lead of the night at 45-37 with 9:45 remaining. However, unlike past upset bids at Virginia and Penn State that were derailed in the second half, the Colonials fought back with a vengeance, embarking on a 23-9 run down the stretch to capture their ninth win of the season.
“Stick with this team, stick with these guys,” Head Coach Mike Lonergan said after the game. Rest assured, even despite the turnovers (15 tonight) and the fairly frequent free throw shooting woes (3-6 from the charity stripe tonight), I do not think anyone is jumping ship after that upset tonight. Postgame, the players looked the happiest of any of Lonergan’s GW teams. After enduring some deflating losses early on at Virginia, Seton Hall, and Penn State, the Colonials look like they have finally hit their stride. The only shame is that the Atlantic 10 season is not starting sooner.
The Colonials will pay their respects during a visit to Pearl Harbor tomorrow before making the long flight back to the District to prepare for their next game on December 30th, when they welcome VMI to the Smith Center. WRGW will be back on the air for that one, with tip off scheduled for 7 pm on gwradio.com.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Cameron Rohde, who covered GW on-site at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Unfortunately, he could not stick around for the title game tonight, but we appreciated his hard work and top-notch coverage this week.
Three Colonials finished in double-figures Thursday night as GW rolled against DePaul 81-68 at the Smith Center. Patricio Garino led the team in scoring with 19 points and five steals while Kevin Larsen was named player of the game with 18 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes. Joe McDonald added a season-high 18 points in the win.
DePaul came into the game as one of the best shooting teams in the country with a 49.5 percent clip from the field. However, it was the Colonials who showed their shooting prowess on this night, shooting 60 percent as a team from the field while holding the Blue Demons to 34.6 percent shooting in the first half to jump out to a 20-point lead at halftime. DePaul did improve mightily in the second half, hitting 63 percent of their shots, but they could not dig themselves out their massive halftime hole as the Colonials got enough timely buckets to seal the win.
Myke Henry was a bright spot for DePaul, continuing his impressive play with 22 points on 8-12 from the field in 29 minutes. Jamie Crockett added 16 points in the loss for the Blue Demons, who drop to 6-2 on the season.
Meanwhile, the Colonials improve to 6-2 on the season and will now prepare for a visit to Penn State in a matinee on Sunday in State College. WRGW’s coverage begins at 11:50 am, with tip off scheduled for noon on gwradio.com.