- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2015

Somewhere along the way, junior Joe McDonald says, the George Washington men’s basketball team lost its sense of urgency. The competitiveness in practice declined. Games were filled with mental mistakes.

McDonald isn’t sure exactly how it all happened.

“I think guys just got used to the flow of things,” he said.

The Colonials have lost their past two games in two completely different ways. They were trounced by VCU in Richmond, 72-48, in a game that was close at halftime and a boat race thereafter. Then they let a late lead slip away against Rhode Island and lost, 59-55.

But that was last week, before a six-day layoff leading up to Friday’s game against Dayton in Foggy Bottom. George Washington used its time off to rest at the midway point of the Atlantic 10 schedule, but also refocus as the conference tournament — and the NCAA Tournament selection process — quickly approaches.

Rediscovering its sense of urgency was part of that.

“I really like our team. I just think that we’ve got to get better again,” coach Mike Lonergan said Wednesday. “We leveled off after Hawaii, then we got a little bit better after we got drilled at La Salle, and now we’ve got to learn from VCU and Rhode Island, these two losses. We’ve got to get better this week.”

George Washington’s recent issues have been more about a lack of focus than a lack of effort. Lonergan said he’s been “really disappointed” by his team’s defensive lapses and poor rebounding of late. The turnovers have only made matters worse.

Against Rhode Island, the Colonials had a five-point lead with a little more than five minutes remaining when freshman Jared Terrell easily stripped Patricio Garino at the top of the arc and coasted downcourt for a dunk. Garino had six turnovers in the game and McDonald had five. George Washington finished with 21 giveaways overall, making it their sloppiest game of the season.

The influx of turnovers is not a recent development, however. In nine conference games, the Colonials have averaged 13.7 turnovers. Stretch that over the course of the season and it’d rank 252nd out of 345 Division I teams.

“I think in practice, we’ve harped on it,” McDonald said. “Running our transition, then hurrying up and getting into our set plays. I think sometimes we’re just a tad bit lazy.”

Junior Kethan Savage said the solution to George Washington’s turnover woes is ball movement. When the ball stays in one spot, he said, the defense has an opportunity to wait on passing lanes.

“You’ve got to make the defense work more,” he explained. “When you hold the ball, late shot clocks, that’s when you’re forced to play one-on-one basketball. And that’s not what we’re about here.”

Savage is one of four juniors that make up the team’s core, alongside McDonald, Garino and forward Kevin Larsen. “As they go is kind of how we’re going to go,” Lonergan said.

The past two games have been evidence of that. Larsen, for example, had one point against VCU and a team-high 15 points against Rhode Island. He’s scored at least 15 points nine times this season, and finished with fewer than five points on six occasions. Lonergan attributed Larsen’s inconsistency to a lack of maturity.

“As an athlete and as a person, he’s still got a long ways to go,” the fourth-year coach said. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and he hasn’t really lived by that motto.”

The Colonials have tried to regain their sense of urgency this week by intensifying practices. A lull in the schedule has allowed them to rest and bring more energy to every rep. They also know the season is winding down, and that they are reaching a critical stretch in their conference schedule.

Three of George Washington’s next four games are at home, where the team has yet to lose this season, and two of those three are against teams ahead of them in the standings: Dayton and VCU. Games against Massachusetts, Richmond and Davidson (twice) will provide further opportunity for the Colonials to strengthen their NCAA tournament resume.

“We have to start getting wins or we won’t reach the goals we had at the beginning of the year,” McDonald said. “I think everybody understands. Our coaches have done a great job of letting us know what we have to do, what we need to do. Now it’s just on us to execute it and want it for ourselves, and not get complacent.”

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