For George Washington, it's a learning process

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy,George Washington University

Four freshmen combining with Armwood in starting lineup

With three freshmen and a transfer in the starting lineup, George Washington coach Mike Lonergan knew to expect the unexpected this season.

So what did Lonergan do after the Colonials shot 24.6 percent and scored 41 points, both season lows, in an ugly loss Friday at Georgia? The second-year coach added another potential dose of volatility to the lineup, starting freshman Kethan Savage (Episcopal).

With Savage hitting five of six shots in his college starting debut on Wednesday night, GW followed one of its worst games with one of its best, dominating defending Atlantic 10 champion St. Bonaventure at Smith Center.

Up next
GW at Xavier
When » Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where »
Cintas Center, Cincinnati
TV » CBSSN

The unconventional move not only sparked Savage, it spurred the player he replaced. Senior Lasan Kromah (Eleanor Roosevelt) followed an 0-for-5 night at Georgia with a 5-for-5 performance off the bench. From one wing guard slot, GW got a combined 26 points in 34 minutes from Savage and Kromah as the Colonials shot 57.1 percent from the floor.

"Lasan was 0-for-5 against Georgia, but it wasn't that. There was no intensity. We weren't getting off to good starts, and he wasn't getting off to good starts," Lonergan said. "I thought Kethan may be hungry. I said, 'All you have to do is play hard.' I thought it would maybe take a little pressure off Lasan."

When GW (7-7, 1-0) plays at Xavier on Saturday, the Colonials, with four freshmen starters, hope to make a major statement against the traditional A-10 power. Since rolling through the regular season undefeated in the conference in 2005-06, GW has lost seven straight times to the Musketeers.

"They got a lot of new faces, which I like, because we got a lot of new faces," Lonergan said.

One of those for the Colonials, 6-foot-9 Isaiah Armwood (Montrose Christian), has played with the consistency of a veteran. The transfer from Villanova leads the Colonials in scoring (12.6 points per game) and rebounding (8.7) and paces the A-10 in blocked shots (3.1).

In addition, Armwood has filled a leadership void. He said he benefited from sitting out last year and watching Lonergan install his system.

"I picked up a lot about Coach Lonergan, what he was like and what he wants on the floor," Armwood said. "There's definitely some responsibility on my shoulders, being captain of the team and with all the freshmen."

There have been elements Lonergan can count on from the freshmen, including 6-10 Kevin Larsen (Montrose Christian), who is solid fundamentally and has sure hands, and 6-6 Patricio Garino, a phenomenal defensive stopper, guarding players of all shapes and sizes.

"I thought [former Maryland guard] D.J. Strawberry was the best defensive player I ever coached. He would lock guys up," Lonergan said. "But Patricio does it without overplaying. In practice, we can't run offense to his side of the court."

In the loaded A-10, which has added quality teams in Butler and VCU, the deck is stacked against the young Colonials. Before the St. Bonaventure game, Lonergan and Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt talked of the state of the suddenly daunting conference.

"He asked me, 'How about this league? You been watching these games?'?" Lonergan said. "I told him, 'I try not to watch.'?"

As GW gains experience and consistency, however, it can enter even some of its toughest tests with confidence -- and perhaps allow Lonergan to watch a few games on TV.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner