Pat Higgins | Sports Editor
After securing the program’s first win at the Atlantic 10 Championship since 2009 on Wednesday night over St. Louis, the men’s basketball team fell to George Washington 73-55 in the second round of the conference championship on Thursday night at the Barclays Center.
Coach Jim Ferry said he was proud of his team for the “resilient” effort they’ve given all year, and noted the importance of avoiding the first round of play.
“I thought last night’s game was a real physical battle against a real big, physical team and so was today,” he said. “I thought some of them [were] fatigued. But that’s what happens when you don’t finish tenth; you finish at 11th, you have to play an extra night.”
Junior guard Micah Mason led the Dukes in scoring with a game-high 22 points (6-of-9, 3-point range), but the Colonials shot efficiently from the field from a multitude of scorers. Yuta Watanabe, Patricio Garino and Joe McDonald scored 12 points each for GW, which shot 45 percent from the field for the game.
Junior guards Derrick Colter and Jeremiah Jones hit a pair of 3-pointers late to bring the Dukes within five points with just over nine minutes to go in the first half. The Dukes and Colonials traded baskets on the ensuing possessions, but GW knocked down 3-pointers on three consecutive offensive trips to take a 33-19 lead.
They lead 40-27 at halftime.
The Dukes displayed that resilience of which Ferry spoke in the second half. They battled for the first 10 minutes of the second half, and Mason knocked down a 3-pointer at the 10:33 mark to shrink GW’s lead to just four at 50-46. That was as close as the Red & Blue came to staking a lead, however.
GW rebounded, forced turnovers and turned those turnovers into points in the other direction in the remaining 10 minute of the game. In total, they outrebounded the Dukes 44-30 (17 offensive rebounds) and doubled their paint production (32-16). In addition, the Colonials’ bench outscored the Dukes’ bench 18-0.
Colter added 13 points and five assists, while Jones scored nine points, grabbed six boards and dished five assists. Dominique McKoy was one point away from recording his second double-double of the season (nine points, 10 rebounds).
Ultimately, Ferry said his team is looking forward. Most of this roster will be back next season, and so the focus is on the future.
“At home, we were dynamic at times. I thought we came in here this in tournament, we really fought,” he said. “But the biggest thing with this group right now is actually starting to look forward after this game. Okay, we are disappointed but we got a lot of guys back for next year. I think we have some of the best backcourt guys in this conference to build on so we just have to improve from this point.”
In all, only McKoy will be leaving the program this season. In the nine games since the indefinite suspension of Jordan Stevens prior to the Dukes’ Feb. 16 matchup at the Palumbo Center against GW, Mason logged 38 minutes per game, while Colter played 36.5 minutes. Redshirts Mar’Qwyell Jackson (6-foot-5 sophomore) and Rene Castro (6-foot-2 freshman) will compete for playing time next season in the Dukes’ backcourt, which Ferry called one of the “best in the conference.”
They have talent returning and time to continue the development of froncourt members like sophomores Darius Lewis and L.G. Gill, as well as freshman TySean Powell. Lewis is 6-foot-11, Powell can jump through the roof and Gill can really become a threat as a long forward in the Atlantic 10 if he continues to improve his jumper.
Ultimately the Dukes finished 6-12 in conference play, but they did take a step in the right direction at the conference tournament by notching at least one win in Brooklyn. They lost a number of close games to Rhode Island, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and VCU.
“What changes winning seasons and losing seasons are close games like that. We have to get better. Everybody has to get better. Our better players have to get better. Our younger players have to get mature.”