- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) — It’s no secret what Mike Lonergan wants for Christmas: a Diamond Head Classic championship.

The fourth-year George Washington coach will have that chance Thursday after his team fended off a pesky Colorado team 53-50 in Tuesday’s semifinals.

Joe McDonald scored 14 points, John Kopriva 11 and Yuta Watanabe 10 to help the Colonials (8-3) rally past the Buffaloes (7-4).

George Washington came back from a 49-48 deficit with less than three minutes to play with a game-ending 5-1 run to hold off Colorado for its fifth win in six games.

“I came here six years ago when I was with Vermont when we made the semis,” Lonergan recalled. “It was great — we went 2-1 — but for our guys, we want to go to the championship. That’s our goal. Our goal is to win. We want to take that next step.”

Colorado closed to within 51-50 on a Josh Scott free throw with 31 seconds to play. Scott missed the second free throw, which was rebounded by George Washington’s Patricio Garino, who sank both free throws on the other end.

Defense sealed it for the Colonials as Kethan Savage drew an offensive foul against Colorado’s Askia Booker and Kevin Larsen blocked Booker’s potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

“Early on I said to him (Larsen) that his lack of offensive production affects him defensively and on the glass, but I thought he had a lot of energy late and he made a play,” Lonergan said. “Our guys all had something to do with that victory, which is nice.”

The Colonials led by as many as nine points twice in the first half and held a 30-26 lead at halftime. However, the Buffaloes stormed ahead with an 11-2 run to open the second half, capped by Jaron Hopkins’ 3-pointer from the right corner off an assist by Booker.

George Washington went on a run of its own late in the second half.

Larsen’s free throw with 2:11 to play knotted it at 49 before Savage gave his team the lead for good in the final minute with a pair of free throws.

“I think we turned the ball over three times in the first minute and a half, we hung in there and Joe McDonald battled,” Lonergan said. “I think he was the key for our win.”

Larsen, who scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed a career-best 15 rebounds in Monday’s quarterfinal win over Ohio, was held to five points and five rebounds Tuesday.

Wesley Gordon and Scott had 10 points apiece to lead Colorado, which saw its two-game winning streak snapped.

Booker tied his career-high with 27 points against DePaul a day earlier, but was limited to eight points in just 23 minutes played Tuesday. He picked up two fouls in by the 15:48 mark of the first half — both coming within 20 seconds of each other — and was relegated to the bench until the start of the second half.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well. George Washington was 39 percent from the field and Colorado 36.

There were five ties and eight lead changes in the game. It was the first meeting between the teams.

George Washington will play the winner between No. 11 Wichita State and Hawaii for the tournament title Thursday.

Colorado will take on the Wichita State-Hawaii loser for third-place Thursday.

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