When someone says that a game in early February is a “must-win,” they’re almost certainly guilty of hyperbole. But George Washington’s overtime win over Dayton at the end of last week had the feeling of such a game. Coming into the night on a two-game losing streak, the Colonials were in danger of falling out of the bubble picture, but now they remain in the running for an at-large bid and perhaps an Atlantic 10 championship. The moment almost got away from them, though, as they let victory slip from their hands twice in the final seven minutes. First, GW allowed Jordan Sibert to send the game to overtime by giving him enough space to knock down a three. That was followed by a blown five-point overtime lead and unlikely win after Joe McDonald put back Kethan Savage’s blocked shot at the last second. It was an exciting game that now puts Mike Lonergan‘s Colonials within striking distance of a regular season A-10 championship — something his program hasn’t experienced in nine long years.
The DC area native cut his teeth as an assistant at Maryland before becoming the head coach at Catholic University and later Vermont. George Washington hired him to return to the District in 2011 after dismissing Karl Hobbs following a stretch of disappointing seasons. During Lonergan’s four-season tenure in Foggy Bottom, his trajectory mirrors his previous stops. A 10-win opening season led to 13 victories the next, followed by 24 with an NCAA Tournament appearance — the school’s first since 2007 — last season. Lonergan has had to deal with a top-heavy Atlantic 10 this year — Davidson, Rhode Island, and UMass have joined Dayton and VCU among the top tier – and the loss of two critical seniors from last year’s team, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood. But with one month left in the season, his team is once again closing in on 20 wins, sits just on the verge of the bubble, and is only one game behind the Rams (both VCU and Rhode Island) for first place in the conference. If George Washington can get past a bad Duquense team on Wednesday night, that will set up a Valentine’s Day match-up at home against a vulnerable VCU squad with first place on the line. Lonergan was able to get the better of Shaka Smart’s group last season at home, and hopes to do it again in pursuit of his first A-10 regular season championship.