George Washington has been there before, grinding away in late February trying to avoid the ignominy of missing the Atlantic-10 playoffs.
But on Wednesday night, the Nike was on the other foot, as perennial A-10 doormat Fordham came to Smith Center. For four straight years the Rams have finished in last place. This year they are near the bottom again. Their last appearance in the A-10 tournament was 2008.
On an uninspired night in which it struggled from the free-throw line and the 3-point arc, GW still had plenty of margin for error. With freshman Kevin Larsen scoring a career high 15 points and GW using superior backcourt defense and ball-handling, the Colonials subdued the Rams 68-60 before 2,240.
Weary of watching the Colonials make only 17 of 37 free throws, some GW fans booed in the final minutes as they watched the last few misses clang off the rim, extending the life of Fordham (6-21, 2-10).
“It got to the point where it was sort of ridiculous,” GW coach Mike Lonergan said. “I probably would have booed too if I had bought my ticket.”
But the night was more about the guards of GW (12-12, 6-5) feasting on their counterparts as Fordham committed 22 turnovers. The Colonials had a season-high 17 steals, including four each by senior Lasan Kromah (13 points) and freshman Patricio Garino (nine points). The presence inside of 6-8 Isaiah Armwood (eight points, 12 rebounds, one block) and the 6-10 Larsen gave the GW guards freedom to be aggressive on the perimeter.
“We played hard,” Lonergan said. “Isaiah was a monster in there.”
GW took control midway through the first half when it scored on seven straight possessions, transforming a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead, 23-15. Kromah and Larsen had two buckets each in the 13-2 run and senior guard Bryan Bynes (five points, two assists) added a 3-pointer. Three of the baskets in the run came off turnovers. For the game, GW scored 27 points off Fordham mistakes.
One disquieting aspect for GW was the inability of Bynes to play in the second half. The senior was limited to 10 minutes as a troublesome knee injury flared up.
The other negative, of course, was shooting. The Colonials hit only 1 of 8 shots from beyond the arc. Poor shooting at the line has been a recurring theme. On Tuesday, the Colonials shot 150 free throws each, with coaches charting the success rate. There was no evidence of the additional work on Wednesday.
“It’s too frustrating. It takes your mind off coaching the game,” Lonergan said. “It’s a shame because it took away from a really good defensive effort by our team.”
GW used defense to pull away when Fordham cut the deficit to 40-37 on a 3-pointer by Mandell Thomas (10 points, six turnovers) early in the second half. A pair of Armwood free throws were followed by a steal by Garino which led to a fast-break put-back by Armwood. After that, Fordham never got the deficit inside five points, but hung around thanks to the Colonials ineptitude at the line.
“Tonight was a real tough night,” said Kromah who missed five of six attempts. “It’s all about mental at the free throw line.”