WASHINGTON -- The Smith Center was loud and intimidating, the way it always was when George Washington was a regular in the Top 25 at various times over the last two decades. For good measure, the Colonials used the occasion to induct Class of `82 standout Mike Brey into their Hall of Fame and debuted a buff-colored jersey featuring the White House, Washington Monument and Capitol below the numbers on the back.
To this group of GW players, it was all new. The din that roared the sophomore-heavy team on to a 76-66 win over Virginia Commonwealth on Tuesday was something to behold, another sign that the program has revived itself again to become worthy of national attention.
"It was one of the most incredible things," said Kevin Larsen, who scored a career-high 22 points. "I've never been in a gym that packed and that loud. It was definitely one of the reasons I came here, to start a new franchise, you can say."
Fellow sophomore Patricio Garino also had a career-high game with 25 points as GW (14-3, 2-1 Atlantic Ten Conference) added VCU to an increasingly impressive list of conquests that includes Miami, Maryland and Creighton, all part of the quest to return to NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
"This is why I came to GW. ... That's the way we want it every game," said coach Mike Lonergan, who's in his third season at Foggy Bottom.
Isaiah Armwood added 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Colonials, who improved to 9-0 at home by shooting 56 percent and dominating the paint. They held on after the Rams cut an 11-point deficit to four in the second half and matched VCU's notoriously torrid pace with stout defense, blocking eight shots and holding the Rams to 37 percent shooting.
Rob Brandenberg scored 17 points to lead the Rams (13-4, 1-1), who had their five-game winning streak snapped. VCU spent the second half staying close but unable to catch up. JeQuan Lewis' layup made the score 61-57 with 6 minutes remaining, but the Colonials answered with a 15-9 run to close out the game.
The Rams, No. 1 in the country in turnover margin, made it a game by pressing constantly and forcing GW into 21 turnovers, but the Colonials broke the press often enough, and VCU couldn't overcome deficits of 45-29 in rebounding and 46-30 in points in the paint.
"We did not play good enough half-court defense," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "Too many easy shots. Too many shots around the basket."
Lonergan knew the Rams would force his team to commit turnovers -- Maurice Creek had seven -- and that the players would have to ignore them and move on to the next play.
"And I'm not really good at that," Lonergan said. "I told them they're going to have to block me out if I start calling them crazy that they turned the ball over, and they're going to just have to move on to the next play."
Neither team led by more than five until the Colonials' closed the first half with a 9-2 run to take a 36-29 lead. Larsen matched his previous career-high of 17 points in the first half alone. He finished 9 for 11 from the field. Garino, coming off the bench, went 8 for 14 from the field and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line.
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Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, considered a lock to leave the program before struggling in the second half last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft and will return for his junior season.
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.