- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. — It was not the end that George Washington seniors Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood had hoped for or dreamed of.

With just seconds left in Friday’s NCAA tournament second round game at PNC Arena, Creek came around a screen for what he thought was a good look at the potential game-tying basket.

But his attempt to send the game into overtime fell short and the No. 8 seeded Tigers advanced to the third round instead, an eventual 71-66 victory over the No. 9 seed Colonials.

And so ended a frustrating game where Memphis dominated the offensive rebounds in the first half and led between four and 10 points for most of the second half until George Washington finally cut the advantage to 64-62 with 2:39 to play and 67-66 with 25 seconds to go.

“I wasn’t really frustrated, I was encouraged because I knew something was going to happen,” said Armwood, who finished with a game-high 21 points and added five rebounds despite playing with four fouls for the final 12:02.

But they never could get over the hump and the Colonials’ season ended at 24-9. There were more than enough positives, however, to take away from a year that saw coach Mike Lonergan’s program become relevant again for the first time in eight years. George Washington endured 10-21 and 13-17 campaigns in Lonergan’s first two seasons before making the leap forward this year.

Armwood and Creek, a graduate student transfer from Indiana, were the glue that held together a promising young team. The Colonials started three sophomores during the second half of the season – guard Joe McDonald, forward Patricio Garino and forward Kevin Larsen.

That doesn’t even include sophomore guard Kethan Savage, who suffered a broken left foot on Jan. 18 and was able to return for just one minute of play in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals. He was the team’s second-leading scorer at the time of the injury and did not play against Memphis.

“That sophomore class is special,” Armwood said. “That’s a big, main reason why we’re here today because those guys stepped up from their freshman year.”

They are the future of George Washington basketball. But Armwood and Creek are lessons that college basketball careers don’t always go as planned. Armwood hardly played his first two seasons for Villanova.

He then had to sit out a year in 2011-12 after transferring to the Colonials, becoming “the first impact recruit we really had,” according to Lonergan. But the 6-foot-9 forward developed his game and on Friday night he had to carry the load as the backcourt struggled to hit open shots against Memphis’ active guards.

Creek began at Indiana, a highly touted recruit from Oxon Hill, Md. who was ravaged by injuries. A broken left kneecap was followed by a stress fracture in his right kneecap and then the a torn right Achilles tendon sustained improbably after Creek fell down stairs before his junior year. A right foot injury then limited him to a reserve role for Indiana’s Sweet 16 team last year.

“Maurice will take the loss hard, obviously. He didn’t shoot well tonight,” Lonergan said. “But what a story. With all those injuries, he came back, helped us have a terrific year and did it in front of his friends and family. A lot of people would have packed it in with those injuries he had.”

That lent some perspective to a disappointing final college night even if Creek did shoot just 2-for-13 with nine points and needed 10 stitches in the first half to close a cut. It wasn’t the finish he wanted. But for a player whose skills, save for his shooting touch, had eroded with those injuries, maybe finishing at all was the whole point.

“It’s everything I asked for from head to toe,” Creek said. “Everybody picked us 10th in the A-10. Didn’t know what to expect from us. And when we started winning games, everybody started to notice us just a little bit. Then we started winning bigger games and got the respect we were supposed to already have.”

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