George Washington won for the 28th time this season Thursday night, more than any other team in the program’s 102-year history, beating Valparaiso 76-60 in the NIT championship game in Madison Square Garden.
Seniors Kevin Larsen (18 points), Patricio Garino (14 points) and Joe McDonald (13 points) capped their GW careers with double-digit scoring in the historic win. Valpo, carrying a program-best 30 wins, presented a challenge with one of the nation’s most efficient defenses but the Colonials got good looks in the paint and got to the free throw line often, converting 22 of 26 opportunities.
Valpo couldn’t ever cut into the lead in the second half and shot the ball poorly against a GW defense that stifled San Diego State in the semifinals and played well again Thursday, forcing 14 Valpo turnovers. Leading by double digits, Mike Lonergan was able to pull his seniors to enjoy the final moments of the title-game win from the bench.
Here are three things to know about George Washignton’s victory:
1. It caps the winningest three-year stretch in program history. Not only did the Colonials take the honor of the program’s winningest season, but extended the program’s record with 74 wins over the past three seasons. Larsen, Garino and McDonald have helped Lonergan make GW a team that is competitive for an NCAA Tournament spot on an annual basis, even if the Colonials fell short in 2016.
2. Kevin Larsen owned the moment. Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh was the highly productive star of the win against San Diego State in the semifinals, but Larsen, the senior with 13 double-doubles on the season and a key part of this great run, was the star against Valpo. He led the team with 18 points, pulled down five rebounds and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the line.
3. Either of these coaches could enter the coaching carousel at the end of the cycle. Many of the job openings in the 2016 coaching change cycle have been filled, but either Lonergan or Bryce Drew could be considered an option for Georgia Tech or Vanderbilt if those schools wanted to turn to a successful mid-major coach to fill their vacancy.