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Tired legs lead to foul trouble as Colonials bow out of A-10 tourney

Kevin Larsen attempts a shot in the Colonials' loss to Rhode Island. Larsen played 38 minutes in the game as GW exited the A-10 Tournament in the quarterfinals. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
Kevin Larsen attempts a shot in the Colonials’ loss to Rhode Island. Larsen played 38 minutes in the game as GW exited the Atlantic 10 tournament in the quarterfinals. Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It was the start of conference play and GW was nipping at the heels of a national ranking. The team had just won the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, taking down then-No. 11 Wichita State, and cruised through a final non-conference matchup. It seemed the Colonials could see their name on the crawl as a top 25 team.

They went into hectic Hagan Arena in Philadelphia to fight Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 season opener. At one point GW was up 17 points and cruising to a victory, able to rest starters and let the bench log some minutes. But missed free throws plagued them down the stretch, and the starters had to stay in.

The Colonials barely won the game, but seemed poised for a long run at the top of the conference and into the NCAA Tournament. Amid discussion of his 15 points and nine rebounds, preseason second team all-conference selection and reigning Most Improved Player in the A-10, junior Kevin Larsen, commented on the 30 minutes he played.

“I don’t think I can play a whole season of 40 minutes,” Larsen said. “It’s nice to get a break and watch how the game goes.”

Larsen would finish the season-to-date Friday night in a quarterfinals loss to Rhode Island at the Barclays Center averaging 33.2 minutes per game. He played 38 minutes against the Rams during a game in which tired legs led to tired fouls.

Fatigue can make any team falter. And when a team can’t keep up, sometimes all that’s left to do is foul.

There has been plenty of water cooler talk about missed free throws for the Colonials. In their exit from the A-10 tournament, they allowed free throws to be their achilles heel again. This time, though, it was the amount of freebies their opponent took – 44 for Rhode Island in the game.

The junior core four are all averaging above 30 minutes per game. Playing back-to-back games in Brooklyn, the Colonials relied on a seven-man rotation, including senior John Kopriva and freshmen Yuta Watanabe and Paul Jorgensen.

GW committed a season-high 27 personal fouls, putting more strain on the team’s depth. The Rams’ 44 free throws were a season-high against GW, though several came out of desperation in the closing minutes of the game. They created 29 points from the charity stripe, about 41 percent of their total.

“We don’t have a bench with too much depth,” head coach Mike Lonergan said after Friday night’s game. “So we can’t afford to have our veteran players getting silly fouls that keeps them out of the game.”

By halftime, the Colonials had three players with two personal fouls: juniors Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage and rookie Jorgensen.

Free throws and fouls were a statistical strong suit all year. In the regular season, GW averaged 15.5 fouls per game overall, and 17.1 per game in losses. Opponents averaged 15.1 free throw attempts per game overall, and 17.8 per game in losses.

Still, GW struggled in games when that wasn’t the case. The Colonials averaged 6.4 more free throw attempts per game than their opponents, but in losses, the differential was just about even. GW shot just 0.3 more free throws than opponents.

And there was a handful of games during which the free throw line was utter kryptonite for the Colonials, and most of those games came at times when the team was playing a heavy schedule.

In the Colonials’ regular season matchup against Rhode Island – which came at the end of a stretch during which GW played four games in nine days – they were 9-17 from the free throw line, while the Rams went 20-22. Larsen also played 38 minutes in that contest and finished with four personal fouls.

So despite ending the year atop the A-10 in fouls committed, the Colonials haven’t kicked their free throw troubles yet. Getting beat while giving up nearly 30 points from the free throw line was an outlier, but it happened and it ended GW’s run for a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

There’s still the NIT, but eyes have started to look toward next year, and Lonergan knows conditioning will be a big part of changing the script.

“We have to do a better job coaching, and our juniors have to be really motivated,” Lonergan said. “Teams are made in the offseason. Got to be in better shape. I thought [the Rams] were in better shape.”

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