Starting four freshmen is a daring proposition. Even though Wednesday's game doubled as George Washington's Atlantic 10 opener, Mike Lonergan boldly made the movefor the first time this season. After scoring a season-low 41 points last week at Georgia, the Colonials felt changes were required.
Based on how the players directly involved in the lineup swap responded, how his team torched the nets and controlled St. Bonaventure for a 78-59 win, don't expect another round of changes anytime soon.
With guard Kethan Savage (Episcopal) making his starting debut, joining fellow freshman Patrico Garino, Joe McDonald (Landon) and Kevin Larsen (Montrose Christian), the Colonials made 12 of their initial 14 shots. On the strength of a dreamy 65.5 percent clip from the field, they scored more points in the first half (46) than the entire game at Georgia.
"I still have nightmares from the Georgia game," said Lonergan about the last of a string of challenging non-conference games. "We couldn't throw it in the ocean... It's just so hard to win when you're not scoring and you're not making baskets. Tonight I thought we got off to a good start. I was worried about starting four freshmen against a veteran team."
As it turned out, even against team starting five upperclassmen, there was need for worry. After opening the second half with nine straight points, the Colonials (7-7, 1-0) turned a 14-point halftime margin into a 55-32 lead.
"Some moves don't work but that worked out well," said Lonergan, who stated before the season a desire to use his new pieces early and often coming off a 10-win campaign.
Villanova transfer and shot blocking big man Isaiah Armwood rounded out the opening tip unit, meaning George Washington's starting five was comprised of five players not on the team last season. Against the Bonnies (7-7, 0-1), that group collectively shot 17 of 27 from the floor.
The 6-foot-3 Savage entered the game with six baskets on the season. In 17 minutes Against the Bonnies, he made 5 of 6 for a season-high 12 points.
"I felt nervous tonight making my first start, but after a few minutes went by I felt we had a pretty good flow going on," Savage said. "We were knocking down a lot of shots."
So was junior Lasan Kromah, the player Savage replaced in the starting lineup. The wing guard missed all five attempts against Georgia. With Lonergan wanting to see how the former A-10 all-freshman player would see the world coming off the pine, Kromah finished 5 of 5 and led the Colonials with 14 points.
"I felt that where we with our season that it was time to give Kethan a real chance," Lonergan said. "He responded and Lasan responded the way I'd hoped."
The anchor of the Colonials defense, Armwood rebounded from arguably his worst game of the season with 11 points, a season-high 14 rebounds and five blocks. Garino, who Lonergan previously cited along with McDonald as the team's best perimeter defenders scored 12 points and dished out five assists.
"I like this team because we've been pretty consistent with our effort on defense. It's just so hard to win when you're not scoring and you're not making baskets," Lonergan said.
No doubt coach, no doubt. There is also probably no doubt Lonergan liked, nay loved what he saw out of his new and freshman-heavy starting five. Some moves work out. On this night the bold lineup change clearly did.