For last year's BB&T Classic matchup, Mike Lonergan famously took his team from Foggy Bottom to Chinatown via the Metro - only to have VCU later ruin the ride by handing George Washington a 15-point loss.
For this year's matchup against Manhattan, the Colonials' coach is sticking with public transportation plan for the 15-block trip. However, he's hoping his new building blocks alter the game result.
"Hopefully, we'll play better this year," Lonergan said. The opportunity commences Sunday at 12:15 in the first game of the doubleheader, followed by Maryland versus George Mason.
Through six games, the Colonials (3-3) have been better in spots, especially regarding offensive efficiency and defense. However, scoring and overall inconsistency remain. That's hardly a stunner considering George Washington sports four new starters, including three freshmen.
That stands in contrast to a Manhattan (2-3) squad that returns five starters from a 21-win team, though the Jaspers have already suffered road losses at Louisville, Harvard and Dayton.
On Monday, George Washington couldn't take advantage of its home court advantage against Mount St. Mary's, falling 65-56. Two days later in Harrisonburg, Va., the Colonial kids led the way to a 55-54 triumph at James Madison. Guard Joe McDonald and center Kevin Larsen each scored 12 points while fellow freshman Patricio Garino drained a 3-pointer in the closing minutes during the decisive 7-2 run.
"The Mount game was definitely a heartbreaker, bad loss for us at home," Lonergan said. "That made the James Madison game that much more important. I thought we played pretty well...Our freshman made a lot of good plays late in the game. They've been inconsistent, which I thought they'd be, but they've played well."
The other new starter, junior transfer Isaiah Armwood, is George Washington's springy center not to mention leading scorer (11.5), rebounder (8.5) and shot blocker (2.5) plus anchor on both ends of the court. Wing guard Lasan Kromah is only recently returning to the opening lineup, but responding with aplomb. In his last three games, the Colonials leading returning scorer is averaging 14.3 points on 67.9 percent shooting (19-28) from the field with 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals.
Though scoring droughts remain an issue, collectively this unit has helped jump GW's field goal percentage from 42.5 last season to a healthier 45.3. Credit smarter shot selection and passing; even without last year's star point guard Tony Taylor the Colonials are averaging 15 assists per game, three more than a season ago.
"I think our basketball IQ is higher so we're going to get more assists," Lonergan said.
Defensively, GW is holding opponents to less than 60 points per game over the last five contests including three wins.
Lonergan noted, "I think we're a better defensive team. We play harder. We still struggle to score...Armwood has definitely brought a lot of energy. He plays so hard, he's intense and that's contagious. Joe and Patricio are two of our best defenders as freshman."
Senior swingman George Beamon (14.5 ppg) and junior guard Michael Alvarado (11.6) lead the Jaspers in scoring, though there hasn't been much scoring for Manhattan this year, yet to top 58 points in a game this season. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference program is stronger than the record and point production suggests, yet a curious opponent considering the higher profile matchups over the BB&T's long history.
Lonergan, who grew up in the Maryland suburbs and played High School ball in the District, has heard gripes from others outside his program regarding the current event setup and distant rumblings about the future, though "no one has said it's the last year." If anything Lonergan, like others have wished over the years, would like to see the event become a true local college showcase.
"I wish we were playing a team like Maryland or Georgetown or George Mason because it would be good for local basketball," Lonergan said. "But we're playing a mid-major team that's got five starters back from a 21-win season. People might not know Manhattan, but we're actually playing a pretty good team. I want to play the best team we can play on a neutral court."
That is indeed where the coach's focus is now, the next game, the rest of this year -and not missing the Gallery Place Metro stop.