WASHINGTON (AP) - After George Washington leading scorer Maurice Cheeks suffered through a miserable first half Sunday, his coach told and teammates told him to keep shooting.
Their faith was rewarded.
Creek hit three consecutive three-pointers to open the second half and finished with 22 points as George Washington defeated George Mason 66-58 Sunday afternoon at the Smith Center.
Eighteen of Creek’s points came after halftime on a day he went 1-for-7 from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
“My teammates told me to keep shooting the ball and they were getting me wide open shots,” Creek said. “Coach called great plays for me to get wide open shots. It’s my purpose to knock them down. That’s what I did in the second half.”
George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said Cheeks has been struggling of late and was due for a big game.
“I told him he was on a milk carton, not everybody got my joke,” Lonergan said. “I said his picture’s on a milk carton. He’s been missing for a while.”
Coming off a 2-for-12 effort in a loss at St. Louis, Cheeks finished 7-of-16 from the field and 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Patricio Garino added 13 points before fouling out and Isaiah Armwood finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Kevin Larsen also chipped in with 11 points.
The win moves the Colonials (21-7, 9-5 Atlantic 10) into a tie for fourth place with Massachusetts with two games remaining. The top four teams in the regular season earn a bye into the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Beyond that the team is looking to secure its first NCAA tournament berth since 2007 in Lonergan’s third season.
“(The Patriots) have a low RPI because they lost a lot of close games. Good team, well coached, but they lost a lot of close games,” he said. “That loss would have hurt us. It was an important game.”
Sherrod Wright led George Mason (10-18, 3-11) with 16 points and Bryon Allen added 14 points. Eric Copes gathered 12 rebounds.
The Patriots are in 12th place in the conference standings and are looking to avoid having to playing in the opening round 12-13 game at the league tournament.
After winning 3-of-5, George Mason shot just 37.9 percent (22-of-58) against the Colonials.
“I wasn’t upset with our shot selection, especially in the first half,” Patriots coach Paul Hewitt said. “I thought we showed enough fight to stay in the game, even when Creek made some big shots.”
With the Colonials up by two, Creek hit a three-pointer from the right wing on George Washington’s first possession of the second half. After a Patriots miss, he connected from the left corner.
Once again George Mason failed to score, and Creek responded with a three from the top of the key that ignited the Smith Center crowd and forced Hewitt to call time with his team down 35-24.
For good measure, Creek tipped in Nemanja Mikic’s miss on the Colonials’ next possession
The Patriots rallied, putting together a 13-3 run and pulling to within 42-41 on Wright’s jumper with 10 minutes left.
Garino’s three-pointer gave the Colonials some breathing room, and Creek scored four straight during a 10-0 George Washington run.
The Colonials scored 12 second chance points after halftime as they grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.
“At the end of the day, the eight point margin is like three or four offensive rebounds that we gave back,” Hewitt said. “I would guess that after 41-39 they had like four put-backs. It’s a game of runs, but you can’t allow second shots like that.”
George Washington led by as many as 14 late in the game before the Patriots closed the gap to single digits due to missed free throws by the Colonials.
The Colonials, who came in having lost three of their last four, improved to 13-1 at home in the Smith Center this season.
Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field in the opening half, and the Colonials turned the ball over nine times, leading to 11 George Mason points.
There were seven lead changes before halftime and George Washington led 26-24 at intermission.
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