Recap: George Washington got the revenge it desired.
Thanks to a rare bench-scoring burst and collective stingy defensive effort against Massachusetts' leading man, the Colonials advanced to the Atlantic 10 semi-finals with an 85-77 victory over the Minutemen on Friday night.
Isaiah Armwood and Patricio Garino each scored 15 points, and Nemanja Mikic had 14 for the Colonials (24-7), who led for the final 36 minutes and by as many as 18 points in the second half. GW had six players score in double figures. Kevin Larsen, Maurice Creek and Joe McDonald each tallied 12.
The Colonials received a bye into the quarterfinals while the Minutemen defeated Rhode Island on Thursday night. The energy popped from the start for coach Mike Lonergan's squad. Extra oomph came early from Mikic, who sank three 3-pointers in the first half. The Serbian native had scored only 16 points over his previous eight games.
Mikic and Creek each made three 3-pointers and the Colonials shot 42 percent (9 of 21) from beyond the arc.
That vigor also showed defensively, specifically versus UMass guard Chaz Williams. The A-10 first team scored 19 points for the Minutemen (24-8), finished 6 of 17 from the field. Williams had a stretch of eight straight missed field goal attempts and went nearly 30 minutes without a basket.
GW led 31-19 in the first half, by nine at halftime and 75-57 with 4:05 remaining. That sizable margin came after the Colonials' countered a UMass surge with a 12-2 run.
The only team to win on at the Smith Center this season, UMass never pulled closer than eight points in the second half. That happened on Williams' 3-pointer with 1:24 left and the Minutemen then took possession following one of GW's 18 turnovers, but Williams immediately had his own miscue.
Maxie Esho led UMass with 22 points.
Key stat: Led by Mikic, the Colonials received 19 bench points including 14 in the first half. Over its last four games with Garino and Creek in the starting lineup, GW's reserves scored a total of 15 points.
Turning point: The Colonials held a healthy lead much of the first half, but only 35-31 with 23 seconds remaining in the first half. UMass rallied with a 12-4 and appeared headed to the locker room with momentum. Instead, GW freshman Nick Griffin drained a 3-pointer, and then Creek stole the ball following the inbounds pass, leading to an Armwood layup a 40-31 halftime lead.
Surprise: Mikic stays in the rotation for two reasons: Experience and his perimeter touch. The latter has been lacking over the latter part of season; no games with multiple 3's since Feb. 5. That changed in the first half as Mikic drained three from beyond the arc during an early 11-2 run. The Serbian native and McDonald led GW with nine first half points.
They said it: "I think lately, the last couple games....I've been pretty much got a lot of open shots lately. They just didn't go in the last couple games and when Coach, teammates believe in you, they passed me the ball when I was open and they dropped down tonight." - Mikic on his scoring performance
Fixer upper: UMass turned to its pressure defense after falling behind and the Colonials struggled against it, committing 18 turnovers overall. Considering VCU is all about pressure defense, GW will need a much better handle to survive 40 minutes of the Rams "Havoc." The Colonials will also need McDonald to bounce back on less than one-day rest. The sophomore barely practiced this season due to a lingering injury.
Injury update: Kethan Savage, out since Jan. 18 with a fractured left foot, was in uniform but did not play. Lonergan's televised postgame comments inferred the sophomore guard would not play in the A-10 Tournament. The coach expressed optimism about Savage receiving at least limited minutes earlier in the week.
On deck: GW and VCU split two games this season, each winning at home. The third matchup tips at 4 p.m. with TV coverage on CBSSN.
They said it: "It's definitely a difficult challenge but they beat us on our home court and it's a neutral site now. So we have to be able to handle that pressure and stay out of foul trouble, I think we'll be all right." - Armwood on Saturday's matchup with VCU