Despite ups and downs, George Washington remains optimistic

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Colonials getting production from three freshmen

George Washington ran the gamut of highs and lows in a recent five-day span.

The Colonials went from an impressive show of precision and cohesion in a rout of Hofstra to a disastrous implosion two days later against Mount St. Mary's to a satisfying gut-check victory on the road Wednesday at James Madison.

Not that second-year coach Mike Lonergan was expecting anything different from his odds-and-ends lineup.

BB&T Classic
George Washington vs. Manhattan
When » Sunday, 12:15 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » MASN

With a trio of freshmen from three different continents, a junior transfer and a junior holdover who missed nearly all of last season with an injury, the Colonials are riding a roller coaster with five players who started a combined one college game last season.

At 3-3 and with each of the losses followed by a win, the ups and downs have come in equal measure. But through it all, there is a growing sense of optimism in Foggy Bottom as the Colonials consider an exciting future.

In the BB&T Classic at Verizon Center on Sunday, the youth of GW will be tested by a veteran Manhattan squad that has returned five of its top six scorers from last year's 21-13 team that went to the second round of the CIT tournament.

Sunday is the Colonials' "first chance to play in an NBA gym," Lonergan said. But the only thing he has come to expect of his team is that it will work hard.

"Last year the effort wasn't there in some games," Lonergan said after the humbling loss to Mount St. Mary's. "I think this group is different. But unfortunately this group is relying too much on young players, and young players are going to be inconsistent."

After the exhilarating victory at James Madison, a team that beat GW at Smith Center last year, it was easier for Lonergan to see the upside, especially with his freshman trio scoring all the clutch points in the final five minutes.

Point guard Joe McDonald and forward Kevin Larsen finished with 12 points each. Forward Patricio Garino made a 3-pointer with 2:09 left. Later he sealed it with a steal with six seconds left.

"He hits a huge 3. Then he overplays, gets the steal, gets fouled and makes two free throws to put us up four," Lonergan said. "That's hard to do when you're a senior."

With his subtle game, Garino, who is from Argentina, has come to symbolize the Colonials. He does everything well but nothing spectacularly. While recruiting another player from Montverde Academy in Florida, Lonergan wasn't immediately impressed but trusted the advice of his high school coach, Kevin Sutton, who's now on Lonergan's staff.

Garino has already become the Colonials' defensive stopper. On Sunday he will guard Manhattan's George Beamon, the top returning scorer in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

"He fills the stat sheet. He plays defense, does things people might not notice," Lonergan said of Garino. "Sometimes I forget he's a freshman."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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