WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Massachusetts head coach Derek Kellogg just wants some rest. And it’s a good thing his team defeated George Washington 67-61, because its free throw performance almost denied him that.
The Minutemen (20-5, 7-4 Atlantic 10) handed the Colonials (19-6, 7-4)their first home loss of the season Saturday, despite shooting 52.4 percent from the line, a statistic that Kellogg said had the potential to keep him up at night.
"If we didn’t win and did that from the free throw line, that’s one you can’t sleep," Kellogg said. "I’m glad that we were able to pull the game out and miss 14 free throws so I can get some rest."
Sampson Carter paced the Minutemen with 20 points, Derrick Gordon added 11, and Raphiael Putney had eight points and nine boards.
Patricio Garino led the Colonials with 20 points and three steals. Isaiah Armwood had 16 points and 8 boards, while Maurice Creek added 11 points.
It was an important victory for the Minutemen. Coming off an ugly loss to George Mason, the team needed to boost its confidence -- and prove that it was still a viable postseason contender.
The gritty win did just that.
"We just wanted to come here and make a statement," guard Chaz Williams said.
George Washington’s poor first-half shooting (11 of 28) proved to be an Achilles heel midway through the first, as Massachusetts pulled ahead by 10 on Derrick Gordon’s layup with 2:58 left.
"I was disappointed the first half.
When Williams headed to the bench, and was rested down the stretch, the Colonials switched into a full-court press, abandoning their man-to-man defense to take advantage of his absence. George Washington closed the half on a 7-0 run, pulling within three at the break at 32-29.
"When he was out of the game, we tried to take advantage of it, because he makes them go," Armwood said. "Points, assists, he makes the team go."
The Minutemen took advantage of sloppy Colonial plays to open the second half with an 8-2 run that put them up by 11 after the first 2:45.
George Washington then doubled down with a smothering defensive effort that initially forced Carter and Williams to sit with four fouls apiece.
John Kopriva drew a charge that knocked Maxie Esho out of the game with eight minutes left, pushing both Carter and Williams back into play.
"It seemed like everybody had three and four fouls. We did a little zone for a few minutes to try to hang on. Three of them came on charges, which is kind of hard to have your guys not do. You want to be aggressive and attack," Kellogg said. "So I thought they did a pretty good job of playing without putting them to the free throw line."
Williams’ presence was key for Massachusetts. He was its best bet at penetrating George Washington’s 1-3-1 zone, Kellogg said, and the guard needed to perform a balancing act, making plays against the Colonials while avoiding being whistled for his fifth foul.
"After I got the fourth foul, I noticed that they were trying to isolate me and try to make me pick up my fifth," Williams said.
George Washington caught Massachusetts and went up 56-55 on a Garino layup with 6:11 left, setting off rapid-fire back-and-forth action that lasted to the final buzzer.
But the Minutemen converted 5 of 8 crucial free throws over the final minutes of play, while George Washington missed all four of their shots from the floor in the game’s final two minutes.
Massachusetts held the Colonials to 37 percent shooting for the game, well below their average.
Also problematic was an inability to produce off the bench, with Nemanja Mikic’s three-pointer serving as George Washington’s sole bench points on the day.
"Our inside guys, we were not scoring. I think we were settling for some jumpers and fade-aways and just not playing tough enough," Lonergan said. "We had been really good inside scoring and we shot a pretty low percentage. They did a good job taking away our inside game."
George Washington heads to Richmond Tuesday, while Massachusetts hosts Virginia Commonwealth Feb. 21.