George Washington coach Mike Lonergan broke protocol and let his team watch Tuesday’s Wichita State-Hawaii game. He wanted to demystify the Shockers and figured Hawaii would play them tough.
Hawaii did and helped wash away WSU’s air of perfection left over from last season. George Washington coaches and players watched and liked its matchups. On Thursday, the Colonials knocked off the 11th-ranked Shockers 60-54 in in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic at the Sheriff Center.
“When we watched them play, we knew they were beatable,” George Washington guard Kethan Savage said.
Especially when they shoot 34.4 percent from the field. And commit eight second-half turnovers. And when the starting backcourt of Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton combines to shoot 11 of 35 from the field.
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“We’re going to have to shoot it better,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I don’t know if we took a bunch of bad shots. I know there were a couple I didn’t like. The percentages just aren’t good.”
George Washington (9-3) finished the game on a 20-6 run, doing to the Shockers (10-2) what WSU has done several times this season. WSU rallied from double-digit deficits to defeat Detroit and Alabama. On Tuesday, it trailed Hawaii in the final minute before winning on a putback in the final seconds.
The Colonials refused to give it away, even down 48-40 after Darius Carter’s three-point with two seconds on the shot clock. Instead of finishing strong, however, the Shockers wobbled.
Lonergan entered the game intending to save his 1-3-1 zone for the second half and he pondering playing some triangle-and-two to guard Baker and VanVleet. He played the 1-3-1 some in the first half, and then made it the defining factor in the second half. Savage, playing at the top of the zone, swiped careless passes by Carter and Tekele Cotton and turned both into layups to cut WSU’s lead to 52-51.
“We knew they were going to switch their defenses,” Cotton said. “I threw a bad pass and it got the momentum going and it went downhill.”
The 1-3-1 zone, with Savage or 6-foot-8 Yuta Watanabe at the top, slowed WSU’s offense and made it work late into the shot clock. After a WSU timeout, the Shockers turned the ball over again on a shot-clock violation. A three by Watanabe gave the Colonials a 54-52 lead.
“We just threw it right into their arms for what we call atomic bombs,” Marshall said. “You can’t defend those.”
Joe McDonald ran a pick-and-pop with center Kevin Larsen, a 25-percent three-point shooter, and Larsen’s seventh three of the season dropped through the net for a 57-52 lead with 2:50 remaining. Lonergan credited Hawaii with an assist on that, as well. The Rainbow Warriors played fearlessly against WSU and made 10 of 23 threes. Lonergan wanted his team, shooting 29.5 percent from three-point range, to shoot open shots without hesitation.
“You can’t play scared, and that’s where Hawaii helped us,” he said. “They were definitely not scared. They played loose.”
WSU’s late-game execution and poise, almost flawless in close wins over Alabama and Hawaii, disappeared against the Colonials and their shape-shifting defenses. Carter threw a bad pass to Baker that he couldn’t handle for another turnover with 1:32 to play. McDonald’s layup put George Washington up 57-52 with 1:06 to play.
“They made the plays to win the game,” VanVleet said. “We didn’t. That’s how you lose.”
WSU shot 34.4 percent for the game and made 1 of 2 free throws, negating an 11-point edge on second-chance points. VanVleet scored 11 points, the only Shocker in double figures, and handed out five assists. Carter scored seven points, on 3-of-10 shooting, and grabbed nine rebounds. Ria’n Holland came off the bench to score nine points, a season-high for the freshman.
Savage led the Colonials with 12 points and Watanabe, a freshman, came off the bench to score 10 points. The Colonials made 9 of 15 threes and recorded its best win over a ranked team since a 2004 win over No. 11 Michigan State.
Diamond Head Classic
George Washington 77, Ohio 49
Colorado 82, DePaul 68
Wichita State 80, Loyola Marymount 53
Hawaii 66, Nebraska 58
Ohio 99, DePaul 78
George Washington 53, Colorado 50
Wichita State 80, Hawaii 79 (OT)
Nebraska 50, Loyola Marymount 42 (OT)
7th place — Loyola Marymount 72, DePaul 69
5th place — Nebraska 71, Ohio 58
Third-place — Hawaii 69, Colorado 66
Championship — George Washington 60, Wichita State 56