- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

As the George Washington men’s basketball team traveled home from Philadelphia on Saturday, the television broadcast of its loss to La Salle earlier that afternoon played on the screens on the team bus.

Coach Mike Lonergan had a pre-arranged recruiting trip after the game, preventing him from joining the team on the ride home, but he wanted to let the 63-50 defeat simmer. He instructed the Colonials to watch the tape without him and prepare to discuss it in a few days.

When that discussion occurred Monday, the players were quiet.

“I just think it was just disappointing because we didn’t play really hard,” Lonergan said Tuesday. “We can overcome one or two guys not having good games, but just our whole starting five really lacked energy.”

Through the first two months of the season, Lonergan’s group has been both impressive and inconsistent. The Colonials at one point won six consecutive games and nine of 10, including back-to-back victories over Colorado and Wichita State in Honolulu to win the Diamond Head Classic. But they’ve also been plagued by sluggish starts and lapses of focus, most recently against the Explorers over the weekend.

Yet Thursday night’s meeting with Richmond, the program’s annual “BUFF OUT” game, has all the necessary ingredients for a bounce-back performance: A conference game against a local foe in the friendly surroundings of Foggy Bottom, where George Washington has won eight in a row and 21 of its past 22.

“The home-court advantage that we have here is something exceptional,” junior Patricio Garino said. “I think the atmosphere and the environment at this gymnasium is something incredible, something you don’t feel everywhere. And at the end of the game, it really helps us. It gives us a little energy.”

That energy was precisely what the Colonials lacked in Philadelphia on Saturday, when they mustered only two points in the first 12 minutes of regulation and quickly fell behind, 19-2. La Salle shot 48 percent in the first half and held each of George Washington’s five starters to nine points or fewer in the game.

Garino called the loss “a wake-up call,” while Lonergan pointed to freshman Yuta Watanabe, who scored 12 points off the bench, as the lone bright spot.

“We’re very inconsistent, and that’s not something I’ve ever experienced with a team that I consider a veteran team,” Lonergan said. “Sometimes statistics and individual goals can get in the way of what we’re really trying to accomplish. So we’ve addressed that this week. I think our guys know what’s at stake right now.”

Richmond is currently tied for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 with George Washington and two other teams. The Spiders run a Princeton-style offense with relentless cuts and screens designed to wear out opposing defenses.

“Their strategy of play is something different that we’re not really used to, in our conference and in our non-conference games,” Garino said.

The friendly setting of Thursday night’s game, however, could help push the Colonials back into the win column. A home meeting with George Mason on Saturday will follow, giving George Washington two opportunities in three days to build momentum as the conference schedule heats up — and rinse out the stench of the loss to La Salle.

“We won nine out of 10, so I don’t want to be too negative. [I] try to be positive,” Lonergan said. “But these guys know that kind of effort can’t happen again.”

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