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Defensive woes continue as GW drops second straight to No. 20 VCU

Junior guard Joe McDonald attempts to dribble in the Colonials' 79-66 loss to VCU. McDonald finished with 12 points. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
Junior guard Joe McDonald attempts to dribble in the Colonials’ 79-66 loss to VCU. McDonald finished with 12 points. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer

After nearly a year of perfection at home, GW lost a game at the Smith Center.

Twelve VCU three-pointers doomed the Colonials, who fell 79-66 to the No. 20 Rams (19-6, 9-3 Atlantic 10) on Saturday afternoon. It was the second straight loss for GW (17-8, 7-5 A-10), snapping a 12-game win streak at home.

“A lot of it was that we missed open shots, and they made open shots,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Our 1-3-1 used to be a huge strength of ours, but you can’t play it when three guys are playing really hard… we just really had no energy and were giving them wide-open threes.”

Despite a strong GW shooting effort led by junior guard Patricio Garino’s game-high 22 points, the Colonials could not handle the high-powered Rams offense. GW’s 16 turnovers and 13 missed three-point attempts also helped VCU pull ahead in a contest that was tied seven times and was close until about nine minutes remained.

VCU junior guard Melvin Johnson had a team-high 17 points and hit 5-8 from three, as five Rams would finish in double figures in scoring.

The frontcourt duo of senior Treveon Graham, who had missed the Rams’ previous two games due to injury, and sophomore Mo Alie-Cox overpowered a frazzled GW defense, combining for 20 points and 12 rebounds on the day. Sophomore guard JeQuan Lewis also added 10 points and a team-high four assists to augment the Colonials’ frustration on defense.

“The problem was that we couldn’t guard them in man because Lewis, and the guard off the bench, was just getting to the rim on us,” Lonergan said. “So we tried to play some 1-3-1 and gave up three threes… and then we stopped scoring.”

In front of a buzzing Smith Center crowd, GW came out strong and jumped to an early lead off a three-pointer from senior forward John Kopriva.

Garino would lead the Colonials in the half with 10 points, as the team went an impressive 59.1 percent from the field.

But nine first-half turnovers by GW to VCU’s five would allow the Rams to run up the scoreboard with their precise three-point shooting. Although the Rams went 44.4 percent from the field in the first, they hit seven of 16 from beyond the arc, led by Johnson’s 14 first-half points.

Down 29-22, the Colonials went a 7-0 run, highlighted by a wide-open corner three from junior guard Joe McDonald, to tie the game and regain some momentum. The teams then traded buckets before junior forward Kevin Larsen rocked the Smith Center when he converted a clutch steal for a dunk to give his team a 36-34 lead late in the half.

GW would end the half tied at 38, as McDonald, who had a team-high eight rebounds and added 12 points on the day, beat the buzzer with a short jumper.

The Colonials would go toe-to-toe with the Rams early in the second half as well. A bucket from Savage made it 48-47 VCU, but GW cooled off while the Rams remained hot. Eight more turnovers in the second half also played a big role in the 13-point loss.

“I give them credit. They’re very good defensively,” Lonergan said. “We had a lot of unnecessary turnovers in the second half, not against their press but really in the frontcourt and they took advantage of that.”

After multiple GW misses, VCU was able to jump to a 58-48 lead with just over eight minutes to play. The Colonials finally responded with a three-point play from Savage and a Garino layup off a steal to cut their deficit in half.

But that was as close as the Colonials would get to a comeback, as the Rams remained steadfast in their offensive pressure while their shots continued to fall, hitting 12 of 30 from three and going 45.6 percent from the field on the day. GW’s defense, which was once the best in the A-10 in points allowed, would concede a season-high 79 points to the Rams a game after setting the high-water mark at 78 at Duquesne.

“I think it’s focus… We were one of the top teams defensively before Hawaii, and we need to get back at it,” Garino said. “Maybe it’s psychological that we’re thinking too much about offense or missing shots… but I think we have to get back to basics and realize that defense is the key.”

The Colonials look to get back on the winning side of things Wednesday, when they host Davidson at 7 p.m.

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