GW's McDonald thriving under A-10 pressure

GW's McDonald thriving under A-10 pressure
January 25, 2013, 7:45 pm
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The chaotic Atlantic 10 conference race is offering nightly bumper car appeal. Teams pull into victory lane one game only to careen down a losing path the next.

After spinning out early, George Washington has steered itself into the mix following two straight wins, both on the road. Directing the dual pressure-packed victories, freshman guard Joe McDonald.

After stops at Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the Colonials return home - and the competition steps up. George Washington faces conference-leading Charlotte on Saturday (2 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).

There is probably a joke to be made about Colonials thriving in New England. Stating the 6-foot-1 lead guard and his teammates rose to the northern challenge is nothing but sincere.

"It's always huge to get road wins and the fact that we got two in a row I think gives us a lot of momentum right now," McDonald said on Friday.

Against UMass last Saturday, the Landon product tallied 16 points - including two free throws with 13 seconds left - and a career-high 10 assists in the 79-76 win. Four days later, McDonald scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half in the 66-65 victory at Rhode Island. He made all four of his field goal attempts, including the game-winning jumper with 9.3 seconds left.

Made more impressive by McDonald's production were the relatively minimal stats that came before it.

Part of an impressive five-member freshman class and the Colonials overhauled starting lineup, the Lorton native has suffered through typical first-year player inconsistencies.

There was the 21-point outburst in his second game at Boston (yes, another New England-based contest). There were also the six turnovers in a scoreless 12 minutes performance against Manhattan. Several misfiring outings followed -- and no double figure scoring totals before UMass, though the rate of turnovers declined.

Over time, McDonald has learned to navigate the college game. Perhaps no better evidence of that on-court adjustment than the winning shot against the Rams.

Down one point, the Colonials searched for an open look, but found defenders at every turn. His initial driving attempt halted, McDonald eventually regained possession on the right wing. Wanting to leave enough time for a just in case rebound opportunity he made another foray toward the baseline. One dribble put him in position for a shot. One shot is all it took.

"I just wanted to be more aggressive offensively," McDonald said, neatly summing the clutch play and his two-game turnaround.

That dogged mindset will come in handy against the 49ers, who lead the conference in field goal percentage defense (37.2) and rate fourth in scoring defense, one slot behind George Washington.

Charlotte is tied for the Atlantic 10 lead with VCU and Xavier. The 49ers lost by 20 last Saturday at Richmond before handing Xavier its first conference loss. That came after the Musketeers beat LaSalle, which then beat Butler two games after the Bulldogs routed Richmond and before the Spiders caught VCU in its web this week. Talk about your whiplash results.

On Saturday against Charlotte, George Washington can add to the chaos.

"It seems like anybody can beat anybody in this league," McDonald said. "We have to take advantage of being home, for sure."