- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

Maurice Creek didn’t have to say a word to show that spirits were high in George Washington’s locker room after its 76-71 victory over Saint Joseph’s.

He simply carried the poster-sized cutout of his head from the crowd into the press conference.

“Feels great for me. I think he’d say the same, too,” Creek said, pointing to the cutout after a win that pulled his team into fourth place into the Atlantic 10.

It’s a victory that keeps the Colonials’ hopes for a top-four seed in the conference tournament and an NCAA tournament bid very much alive.

Creek led the Colonials (22-7, 10-5 Atlantic 10) with 20 points and five rebounds, followed by Joe McDonald, who had 18 points and six boards, Patricio Garino with 17 points, and Isaiah Armwood, who added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

DeAndre’ Bembry scored 22 points for Saint Joseph’s. Ronald Roberts added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Hawks (21-8, 11-4). Chris Wilson added 14 points and Langston Galloway had 10.

Though the teams traded baskets over the final minutes of play, George Washington held off Saint Joseph’s final push, using its 45.5 percent shooting to grab the win.

The Colonials stayed clutch down the stretch, finishing the second half going 8 of 14 from the field, and hitting 5 of 8 from 3-point range.

“We’ve come a long way, there’s no guarantees or anything, but I tell you what, we beat one of the hottest teams in the country outside of Wichita State tonight,” George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan said. “And they have a high RPI and I think it’s just definitely a great resume win for us.”

But another boost for the Colonials came at the free-throw line. After George Washington had just three free throws in the first half, it headed to the line 24 times in the second, turning that into 15 points - something head coach Phil Martelli seemed to blame on officiating.

“We’re the third-fewest fouling team in America. They just shot 24 foul shots in the second half,” Martelli said. “And he’ll want his name in the papers. His name is Jamie Luckie, the referee. He’ll want his name in the paper.”

At the 9:31 mark of the second half, Bembry was whistled for a technical foul, giving the Colonials a chance to make up some ground.

Next, Halil Kanacevic was slapped with his fourth foul, and Roberts was whistled for his fourth just minutes later, and the two Hawks headed to the bench. The Colonials, in turn, capped an 8-0 run with a pair of Garino free throws that tied it up at 55.

Kanacevic re-entered the game only to foul out and give Garino a three-point play that pulled the Colonials ahead by two with 6:40 to go.

It was an impressive comeback for a George Washington team that saw its early lead evaporate with a strong first-half push from the Hawks.

Just as quickly as George Washington gained the advantage off the back of its 1-3-1 zone, Saint Joseph’s came roaring back. Bembry nailed a layup, sparking his team into a run before the break.

“We took some bad shots and our turnovers and bad shots led to some breakouts and dunks for them and layups,” Lonergan said.

The Colonials were held scoreless over the final 5:32 of the first half, unable to right the ship even after Lonergan called his team to the bench twice over that span. Once George Washington’s confidence took a blow, the entire performance started to crumble - the Colonials turned it over three times and were outrebounded 6-2 over the final 5 minutes of the first.

But the Hawks began to look shaky midway through the second half. Turnovers, missed rebounds and shots clanging off the rim revealed a team losing its rhythm - something Martelli attributed to the countless whistles.

“I think we solved (the 1-3-1) in the first half because we made some shots. In the second half, we got hurried. We needed to be able to take the ball down the floor and not just around the floor,” Martelli said.

The Hawks, who shot 44.6 percent, missed clutch shots down the stretch. Saint Joseph’s went 8 of 26 from the 3-point arc.

That, combined with the Colonials’ renewed inside-out offense off the hot hands of their four players in double figures, pushed George Washington to a crucial victory.

“They came back in the first half, and we got refocused, we came back out and just told our guys, we’re gonna calm down, we gonna make plays for each other and we gonna win this game today,” Creek said. “And that’s what we did.”

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