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Colonials snap four-game skid behind 29 points from Watanabe

File Photo by Donna Armstrong | Hatchet Photographer
Yuta Watanabe, a 2018 graduate and four-year star for the men’s basketball program, signed an Exhibit 10 contract in late November that allowed him to take part in the Raptor’s training camp and preseason games.

Men’s basketball snapped a four-game losing streak and earned its third conference win of the year Wednesday night against La Salle.

Senior guard Yuta Watanabe contributed a career-high and game-high 29 points in the 80–69 victory over the Explorers (10-14, 4-7 A-10) – the largest winning margin of the Colonials’ (10-14, 3-8 A-10) season. It was Watanabe’s second consecutive 20-point game.

“Last game, even though I got 20, we lost by like 30 and we’re have a hard time the last few games,” Watanabe said. “But no matter what I was coming to the gym every night, getting some shots up and working on my game. My shot felt really good today, I could stay aggressive and I think I did my job today.”

GW went 6-for-15 from beyond the arc, with five of those threes coming from Watanabe. The Colonials had a 40-26 advantage in points in the paint.

Head coach Maurice Joseph said the night’s game was the first time this season his team has been able to string together 40 minutes of basketball.

“I shouldn’t have to coach effort, that should be our foundation. Our guys have started to see that,” Joseph said. “There were very few lack of effort plays today.”

The Colonials were without sophomore guard Jair Bolden – who was out with a concussion – for the first time this season. In Bolden’s absence, freshman guards Terry Nolan Jr. and Maceo Jack played more minutes and served a larger role handling the ball.

Bolden and sophomore guard Adam Mitola have both missed games due to injury, and sophomore guard Justin Williams played for the first time in four nights after sitting due to a back injury.

“Really happy that our guys were able to step up,” Joseph said. “We were talking about next man up, next man up, next man up. We’ve got a lot of nicks and bruises here, but our guys buckled down and got the job done.”

Nolan contributed nine points and a team-leading 11 rebounds, while Jack picked up six points and three rebounds in a career-high 22 minutes of play. Forwards graduate student Patrick Steeves and sophomore Arnaldo Toro contributed 15 points each and grabbed five and seven rebounds, respectively.

[gwh_image id=”1048393″ credit=”Donna Armstrong | Hatchet Photographer” align=”right” size=”embedded-img”]Graduate student forward Patrick Steeves goes up for a dunk during a men’s basketball game against La Salle Wednesday. [/gwh_image]

On the other end of the court, the Explorers were led by redshirt junior guard Pookie Powell and sophomore guard Saul Phiri – who both picked up 16 points in the matchup. Powell was limited to just four points in the second half.

“We stressed that our defense had to be more active,” Nolan said. “It wasn’t just stopping him, it was stopping the whole team. We played better defense in the second half I think and that led to him struggling.”

The Colonials also held redshirt senior forward B.J. Johnson to 14 points and eight rebounds. Heading into the game, Johnson averaged 21.4 points per game.

In the opening minutes of the first frame, La Salle’s Phiri went 2-for-5 from beyond the arc to give the Explorers a short-lived 11–8 advantage.

After trading baskets to begin the night, the Colonials went on a 16-2 run, sparked by a three-point shot from Watanabe with just less than nine minutes remaining in the half.

La Salle responded to the run by making four consecutive baskets, pulling the Explorers closer on the scoreboard. Powell made two consecutive three-point shots, but Joseph said his team was resilient enough to fight back.

“We played hard, that’s what our guys need to understand,” Joseph said. “We didn’t lay down, we didn’t hang our heads too much, we stayed the course whether things were going well or they weren’t.”

To open the second frame, the Colonials had success pushing the pace – something the team hadn’t done in previous games.

“In the few games what you’ve seen was, we come out first half good, but the second half we come out really flat,” Nolan said. “Yuta and the leaders said just come out in the second half, stay energized and just don’t come out flat like we usually do and we’ll be victorious.”

GW led by as many as 23 points with around four minutes left in the game, but La Salle ended the game on a 12-2 run against the Colonials’ reserves.

GW returns to action on the road at George Mason Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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