- - Friday, March 9, 2018

George Washington coach Maurice Joseph gathered his players near the team bench with 7:43 left in the game.

The No. 11 seed Colonials trailed Saint Louis by two points, but top player Yuta Watanabe had been helped off the court after taking a spill on a drive to the basket even though a foul was not called.

At first not able to put weight on his right leg, the senior star from Japan leaned over in pain in a tunnel as his teammates tried to overcome his absence.

No. 6 seed Saint Louis was able to stretch its lead to 61-52 with 3:20 left and the Billikens held on to beat GW 70-63 in the Atlantic 10 Conference championship tournament. The Colonials led by 12 points in the first half but could not contain Billikens star Javen Bess, who had 13 of his 16 points in the second half while teammate Jalen Johnson had 18 points.

“I want to thank my seniors, who played their last game. There is nobody who has given more to the university,” GW coach Maurice Joseph said of Watanabe. “I thought it was a foul to be honest with you. I am glad the X-rays are negative. We hope he is fine.”

The Colonials end the season 15-18 and Watanabe, one of the few natives of Japan to play at the Division I level, ends a career that included Defensive Player of the Year honors in the conference this season. Saint Louis will now face No. 3 seed Davidson on Friday in the quarterfinals.

Watanabe joined his teammates during a timeout with 47.9 seconds left, grimacing in pain as an athletic trainer and teammate helped back to the bench. As much as he wanted to return it didn’t happen. He was on crutches when players shook hands after the final buzzer.

“I thought GW was in rhythm and really playing well,” said Travis Ford, the Saint Louis head coach. “In the second half, we went out with the mentality to play to win. At halftime, we sort of put caution to the wind. We started switching everything. I thought our 1-3-1 (zone defense) made a difference.”

Colonials reserve Bo Zeigler, who had 16 points Wednesday, had 11 of his 13 points in the first half Thursday. GW guard Jair Bolden had 16 points, Terry Nolan, Jr. had 13 and Watanabe was limited to 11 on 3 of 9 shots.

“He has been a guy who has given us underclassmen something to strive for,” Bolden said of Watanabe. “He is a benchmark for all of us to reach. He has been our leader for the two years I have been here. I have never played with a guy my years in life who has done so much in the game and in the locker room. Guys have to step up when your best player (goes down). We were not able to get it done tonight for Yuta and that is tough.”

The Colonials led by 12 late in the first half and 32-21 at intermission despite six points from Watanabe and none from Patrick Steeves, who entered the game averaging 10.1 points per contest but had two Thursday. But Zeigler picked him his third foul with 16:46 to go and headed to the bench.

“We were the (Golden State) Warriors in the second half,” said Ford, whose team shot 67 percent in the second half. “We were in serious foul trouble. We had to go zone.”

Watanabe entered Thursday averaging 16.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Watanabe ends his career with 1460 points, 609 rebounds and 95 steals.

In other games Friday, VCU will face No. 1 seed Rhode Island at noon, George Mason will meet No. 4 seed Saint Joseph’s at 2:30 p.m. and No. 2 seed St. Bonaventure will face No. 7 Richmond at 6 p.m.

The conference semifinals are Saturday and the title game is Sunday at 1 p.m. on CBS TV.

The GW recruiting class for next season includes 6-foot-6 Mezie Offurum, who is from Germantown, Maryland and played at Georgetown Prep. He was teammates at Georgetown Prep with Jared Bynum, who has signed with Saint Joseph’s of the Atlantic 10.

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