- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2015

As George Washington’s Kethan Savage drove toward three defenders with six seconds left in overtime Friday night, Joe McDonald saw an opportunity. He slipped behind his defender into premium rebounding position. Savage’s shot was blocked. The ball fell to McDonald. He threw it up. It fell through.

And then: bedlam.

In front of a packed gym and a national television audience, McDonald’s buzzer-beating tip-in gave the Colonials a 65-64 victory over Dayton, halting a two-game losing streak. After the shot went in, he stood motionless under the basket, his arms at his sides, screaming words he no longer remembers.

“I was just talking,” McDonald said with a smile after making the first game-winning shot of his basketball career. “A lot of emotions. Just to see the ball go in and the lights go off — it was a good feeling.”

Players spilled from the George Washington bench and mobbed McDonald in the corner of the court. Fans under the basket at the opposite end of the gym, including members of the water polo team dressed in oriental robes, joined them.

As the mob jumped up and down in one corner, the Flyers walked off the court in the other. Officials confirmed the shot after a brief video review.

The game’s ending was exciting for George Washington, but the result was more important. Following consecutive losses to VCU and Rhode Island, the Colonials welcomed the opportunity to add another quality win to their NCAA Tournament resume. And they got it against Dayton, which entered the game with a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) of 33. It was George Washington’s second win over a team with a top-50 RPI this season.

“It should help us [but] we’ve got a long ways to go,” George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said. “In a way, having up a tough schedule helps us. We’ve got Davidson twice coming up. We had Dayton. We still have another game with VCU. … We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

McDonald finished with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting for George Washington (17-6, 7-3 Atlantic 10), while Patricio Garino had 13 and Kevin Larsen added 11. Larsen also finished with eight rebounds, five assists and only one turnover.

Lonergan said he drew up the final play for Savage, who has shown a penchant for “making something happen.” But when the junior guard waited at the top of the arc, watching the clock tick longer than instructed, Lonergan grew worried that the Colonials wouldn’t have enough time left. With no timeouts remaining, there was nothing he could do but yell.

“Kethan got me a little nervous because he held the ball for some reason,” Lonergan said. “I was like, ‘Oh jeez, what are we doing?’ We had no timeouts left.”

Larsen came to set a screen for Savage, who shooed him away and began working on his defender. Lonergan had told Garino, who was on Savage’s left side, to go for a tip-in or a dunk if Savage missed. The coach also thought Larsen, who is a bulky 6 feet 10, might be able to get the putback.

Instead it was McDonald, the team’s smallest player on the court at the time.

“That’s what Joe does,” Larsen said. “He makes big plays.”

After one practice earlier this week, McDonald said he thought the Colonials had stopped playing with a sense of urgency in recent games. They were blown out in Richmond by VCU, then let a five-point lead slip away in the closing minutes against Rhode Island. The turnovers were piling up, and players were being too lackadaisical with the ball.

The energy in practice was better this week, McDonald said. It was better in the game, too. His performance, from the opening tip to the buzzer-beating end, made sure of it.

“Happy to get the win,” McDonald said. “We really needed one.”

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