GW beats UMass 85-77 to reach A-10 semifinals

NEW YORK (AP) Patricio Garino scored 15 points, Nemanja Mikic came off the bench to add 14 and George Washington showed off its depth and versatility in an 85-77 victory against Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals Friday night.

The third-seeded Colonials (24-7) avenged a regular-season loss to UMass (24-8) and won at the A-10 tournament for the first time since 2007. That was also the last time GW made the NCAA tournament.

George Washington will play No. 23 VCU in the semifinals on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn – but regardless of the outcome the Colonials are in fine shape to end their NCAA drought.

Maxie Esho had a career-high 22 points and seven rebounds for the sixth-seeded Minutemen, who are still looking good to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Chaz Williams had 16 of his 19 points in the second half for UMass.

Playing another game without second-leading scorer Kethan Savage, who is still nursing a foot injury, and with leading-scorer Maurice Creek struggling with his shot, George Washington got its offense from other places and confounded the Minutemen with their 1-3-1 zone defense.

Isaiah Armwood had 15 points, point guard Joe McDonald had 12 points and seven assists and Kevin Larsen gave GW good work inside with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Creek scored all of his 12 points in the second half.

For the second-straight game, Williams took a while to find his game while playing in front of friends and family not far from where he went to high school in Brooklyn.

He had three points in the first 31 minutes, but scored nine in a span of 1:55 to help cut the UMass deficit to eight with 6:46 left. The 5-foot-9 senior’s 3 made it 63-55.

But Mikic was fouled shooting a 3 and made all of the free throws, and then Larsen putback Mikic’s long-range miss to make it 68-55 with 5:04 left.

Creek’s 3 with 4:40 bumped the lead to 16 and the George Washington student section, sensing a victory, serenaded their team with the chorus to ”Seven Nation Army.”

George Washington is one of the top turnaround teams in the country. Coming off a second-straight losing season under coach Mike Lonergan, the Colonials bounced back big by challenging for the Atlantic 10 title this year behind the Indiana transfer Creek and a contingent of five international players.

Mikic, from Serbia, doubled his scoring average by hitting three 3-pointers in the first half as GW took control.

Esho, as he did in UMass’ victory against Rhode Island on Thursday night, came off the bench to spark the Minutemen with his play in the paint and 10 points, including a one-handed slam off a steal in the first half that brought the UMass fans to life.

The Minutemen had trimmed GW’s early double-digit lead to four in the final minute, but GW finished with a flourish.

Nick Griffith made a corner 3 with 23 seconds left in the half and Creek stole UMass’ inbounds pass. Creek missed the short jumper, but Armwood cleaned up and sent the Colonials to the locker room with a 40-31 lead.