Pressure-free GW ready for A-10 Tourney run

Pressure-free GW ready for A-10 Tourney run
March 13, 2014, 8:15 pm
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(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Forget the NCAA Tournament: Last season George Washington needed a win in its regular season finale just to qualify for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Fast-forward 12 months. Senior Isaiah Armwood and the Colonials enter the Barclays Center, site of the 2014 conference shindig, as the No. 3 seed. GW faces either sixth-seeded Massachusetts or No.11 Rhode Island at 9 p.m. in Friday's quarterfinals.

Wait, there's more. The Colonials are also a lock to play next week in the ultimate March Madness event for the first time since 2007. Armwood, the former Villanova transfer, has participated in the NCAA's more recently even if it might not feel that way for the electric big man.

"I went to the tournament twice when I was at Nova," said Armwood, who left the Wildcats after the 2010-11 season. "We lost both times in the first round. To get back this year, it would mean a lot. We don't get want to get there. We want to win some games. From my first year here coming to George Washington, having to sit out, to where we are now, we've come a long way."

During the 2011-12 campaign, the first with coach Mike Lonergan, the Colonials finished 10-21. Last season with an eligible Armwood and four freshmen in the starting lineup, they finished 13-17 and reached the A-10 Tourney with a last second victory over Dayton.

This season, the plan came together. GW enters the postseason 23-7, 11-5 in the conference, more than enough to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. No matter what happens in Brooklyn, Lonergan's squad will dance on.

"That's a great spot to be in," the coach said. "Last year pressure was having to beat Dayton [at home] in the last game of the season. Now we can enjoy it and get focused when [Friday] comes."

With three wins in three days this week, GW will snag the program's third A-10 title and first since 2007.

"We can definitely play more loose, but we still want to win the tournament," Armwood said. "We want to win every game we go out there and play."

The conference coaches selected Armwood to the A-10 All-second team while guards Maurice Creek received third-team honors this week. Armwood, who averages 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, and Garino were also picked to the All-Defensive team. Sophomore center Kevin Larsen was named the league's Most Improved Player.

GW improved at the end of the regular season, picking up three straight wins over George Mason, Saint Joseph's and at Fordham. That winning stretch followed a losing one including setbacks to UMass and VCU, a possible semifinal opponent.

"That was huge for us. We had lost three of four," Lonergan said. "Getting that two-game home stretch and then having Fordham in that last game I knew would be tough. It was nice to get that momentum. We're still a young team in some ways. Confidence means a lot. For us to enter the conference tournament on a three-game winning streak is huge for us."

Earning a bye into the quarterfinals helped as well, especially for those battered and bruised. Point guard Joe McDonald (team-high 4.0 apg) battled a hip injury all season. Fellow sophomore Kethan Savage, GW's second-leading scorer (13.4 points), hasn't played since Jan. 18, but could pick up some minutes in the A-10 Tourney.

"It was definitely important especially for people like Joe McDonald," Armwood said. "He barely practices."

Getting any rest at this time of year is a bonus. For GW, so is marching into the madness with security and confidence. 

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