NEW YORK – In the first round, they faced elimination. George Washington barely got by a good Hofstra team 82-80, in the friendly confines of home no less, to advance to the second round. As the tournament advanced, they played better each time out, gained confidence and subsequently handled all opposition. Monmouth on the road, Florida at home.
Next up was the NIT “Final Four” at Madison Square Garden. In the semis the Colonials sent San Diego State back home. In the finals, following a nearly even first half, George Washington opened it up the second half going on to went defeat Valparaiso 76-60.
Semifinals: Valparaiso 72, BYU 70 70
George Washington 65, San Diego State 46
Finals: George Washington 76, Valparaiso 60
Defense was the key for the Colonials. “We played better defense as the tournament went on,” George Washington coach Mike Lonergan noted. “Our guys bought into the defense as we progressed.”
The Colonials utilized a 1-3-1 zone, a big reason for stopping Monmouth’s perimeter game in a big road victory. The zone was instrumental in the two victories at Madison Square Garden.
“Never thought I would say it,” Lonergan said. “I thought defense actually won this championship. Started with Monmouth… And that night I said we really have it and can win this thing. We got better each game, which is nice.”
Valparaiso edged BYU in the first semifinal at the Garden. BYU, a two-time champion (‘51 and ‘66), appeared in the Final Four here in 2013. The Cougars, coached by David Rose, lost to eventual champion Baylor that season. Interestingly, BYU led for less than a minute in the entire contest, yet had a chance to pull it out on the final possession. A long distance three-pointer was blocked at the buzzer to secure Valpo’s first trip to the finals.
The Crusaders shared the wealth with five players in double figures. Leading the way for Bryce Drew’s club were David Skara and Nick Peters with 15 points each. The game high scorer was BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth with 20 points.
In George Washington’s victory over San Diego State, Tyler Cavanaugh of the Colonials led the way with 20 points, 11 rebounds. San Diego State never got on track offensively. The Aztecs struggled significantly against the 1-3-1 of George Washington.
BYU and Valparaiso were meeting for the third time. They played twice in the 1940s with the two schools splitting the games. Speaking of the 40s… Valparaiso played at the Garden twice that decade. Both times they played regular season games against LIU. Again, each school split the pair. the two games were split.
The numbers of note:
In the first half BYU was forced into an excessively high 28 percent turnover rate. The Cougars improved the second half finishing with a 23 percent TO rate. Defensively, they forced Valparaiso into turnovers that second half making their run. The victorious Crusaders held on despite a 26 percent TO rate.
George Washington 116
San Diego State 79
For Steve Fisher and the Aztecs, it was a long night.
George Washington 117
MVP: Tyler Cavanaugh, George Washington
Alex Peters, Valparaiso
Kevin Larsen, George Washington
Joe McDonald, George Washington
Patricio Garino, George Washington
On the baseline
- In a great showing of spirit and enthusiasm, each school brought a band, cheerleaders and dance team. Valparaiso has a graduate working for Good Morning America. As a result the Valpo cheerleaders and dance team appeared on the show the morning of the finals.
- Favorite band goes to George Washington. How many college pep bands can play Queen’s Bohemian Rhaposdy during a time out? Loved that group.
- Final records:
George Washington 28-10
San Diego State 28-10
- The teams assembled in New York all had a case for getting on the board Selection Sunday. To their credit, they got past the initial disappointment, regrouped and used the opportunity afforded by the NIT to attempt to win a championship. George Washington coach Mike Lonergan pointed out teams do miss the NCAA and get an early exit from the NIT. “Some say those teams never wanted to be there (NIT),” Lonergan said. “I never believed that. We are an up and coming program with a great history.” Colonial senior Joe McDonald, an all-tournament pick, echoed Lonergan’s sentiment. “To leave the NIT champion is so special,” McDonald said. “There’s not a lot of teams that can play their final game for a championship. We’re happy it ended this way for us.” Alec Peters summed it up after a semifinal win over BYU. The Valparaiso Junior and his team did not ascend to the title. Yet trying and getting as far as they did was special. “Not getting into the NCAA was a disappointment. But advancing and (possibly) winning the NIT is so much better than playing a round in the NCAA and getting eliminated.” Really can’t argue with that.
- A team of destiny? George Washington played like it in New York. Beyond the label bestowed, you must have talent and an effective plan of action. The Colonials had the former with Kevin Larsen, Joe McDonald and Patricio Garino. The trio are not just talented players but seniors. There is something to be said about senior leadership, especially in post season. Not to be forgotten was Tyler Cavanaugh. George Washington’s outstanding Junior wound up taking home NIT MVP honors after a 20 point 11 rebound semifinal effort was capped off by 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the championship. A team of ‘destiny’ has a reason or two why they are called that.