George Washington coach Mike Lonergan admits his Colonials would have lost games last year when starters Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino struggled scoring. That's not the case this campaign even against a major conference opponent.
Forwards Tyler Cavanaugh and Yuta Watanabe fueled the offense and an early second-half run carried George Washington to a 76-66 win over Penn State Tuesday night.
Cavanaugh scored 18 points, guard Joe McDonald 16, and the 3-point shooting Watanabe had all 14 of his points in the first half for the Colonials (8-1). GW led most of the game, 40-33 at halftime and 56-38 following a 14-3 spurt. McDonald tallied 14 points in the second half as George Washington snapped Penn State's three-game winning streak.
Watanabe, a sophomore who moved into the starting lineup late last season, made four 3-pointers in the first half after sinking eight over the opening eight games. GW went 9 of 19 from beyond the arc in a rematch from last season's 64-51 road loss.
Shep Garner scored 22 points and Brandon Taylor had 15 for the Nittany Lions (5-3). Penn State closed to 71-62 on Taylor's 3-pointer with 4:09 remaining, but they would not get closer.
Bench production helped the first half push with 14 points. Improved play from sophomore guard Paul Jorgensen plus additions of three transfers -- Cavanaugh, Matt Hart, Alex Mitola -- provide Lonergan with more options this season. Other than seeking ways to prevent Larsen from playing 36 minutes a game, the coach appears pleased with his rotation.
"Last year we didn't have a lot of depth either, but we couldn't overcome Garino having two [points] and Larsen having six," Lonergan said. "Now with the addition of Tyler and Paul stepping up his game, even Matt Hart and Alex Mitola, they're threats to score. They've given us something off the bench. We didn't really have a lot of bench production last year."
George Washington owns several wins over notable programs under fifth-year coach Mike Lonergan, but this season some of the victories are happening in Foggy Bottom. The win over Penn State was GW's first over a Big Ten opponent at home since defeating Wisconsin in 1977. George Washington defeated ACC power and sixth-ranked Virginia 73-68 at home on Nov. 16.
As for recent history, the Colonials received little production at power forward last season. That's changed with Cavanaugh, who sat out last year after transferring from Wake Forest. The assertive 6-foot-9 forward with the ability to power past opponents at the rim and shoot from distance, recorded his first double-double since the season opener. Despite his new guy-ish status, Cavanaugh quickly blended in with the returning player's from last season's 22-win team.
"They're all unselfish basketball players," Cavanaugh said. "They get me [the ball] in good spots where I feel comfortable to score and that's impressive because I've only played nine games with them so far."
The offensive flow stood out, leading to 16 assists on 23 baskets along with 28 free throw attempts. Larsen only scored six points, but the big man was once again a big passing presence, finishing with five assists.
"I just thought we passed the ball very well, Cavanaugh said. "When the ball is moving like that, it's easy to have balance scoring."
On the other end, the Colonials defense held the Nittany Lions to 7 of 26 of 3-point attempts.
* McDonald and Cavanaugh combined to make 15 of 18 free throws.
* Sophomore center Matt Cimino recently underwent a surgical procedure on his right foot after suffering an injury in practice. He is expected to miss at least two months, according to a school official.
* The Colonials have now faced a major conference team in four straight games with a fifth, Rutgers, visiting Saturday. GW defeated Tennessee in Brooklyn and Seton Hall last week at Smith Center. They lost to No. 24 at the Barclays Center less than 24 hours after beating the Vols.
* The Colonials went 1-3 in road games at Virginia, Seton Hall, Penn State and Rutgers last season. Payback is working nicely so far. "We want to go 4-0 at home," Lonergan said. "It's one of the mini goals we have."
* Watanabe's first half scoring total could have jumped up if he didn't miss both of his free throw attempts. Each came after a made a basket, including a straight-on banked 3-pointer. GW, which entered the game second among Atlantic 10 teams at 76.4 percent, finished 21 of 28.
* Michigan State's visit in 1986 was the last by a Big Ten before Tuesday.