WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) - George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan had a crystal-clear message for his team prior to tip. Stay undefeated at home, he told them, and the path to the Big Dance is clear.
So they did, using a commanding first-half run to nab a 69-47 victory over La Salle Wednesday night.
With that, the Colonials avenged their only A-10 loss of the season - Jan. 9's defeat at La Salle.
"It was definitely a kind of revenge for me," Kevin Larsen said. "I've been kinda mad since that game. I've been more focused, worked harder, so it was definitely kind of sweet for me to play well today and get the win."
The win pushed the Colonials (17-3, 5-1 A-10) to 10-0 at home, and tied their longest A-10 win streak since the 2006-07 season.
Isaiah Armwood added his sixth double-double of the season with 16 points and 14 rebounds, which tied his career- and season-high. Maurice Creek had 15 points for the Colonials, Larsen added 15 points and eight boards and Patricio Garino had ten points and seven rebounds of his own.
"Today, our bigs really outplayed their bigs," Lonergan said. "But our team defense was tremendous. We basically played 1-3-1 the whole second half, and to hold a team with that much talent to 27 percent field goal shooting, I couldn't be happier."
Tyreek Duren paced La Salle (11-9, 3-3 A-10) with 22 points, but no other Explorer scored in double-digits en route to their third straight loss.
"We showed some signs of life, but you have to show a lot more than that to have a chance to win here," La Salle head coach John Giannini said.
The game wasn't without a tarnished edge for the Colonials. Point guard Joe McDonald exited the court before the first half ended, and didn't play for the rest of the game.
He sat on the bench with his left leg fully extended, shifting gingerly in obvious discomfort. Lonergan said at halftime it was due to a hip injury that's plagued McDonald since high school. There was no update on McDonald's condition after the game and Lonergan said that would likely come tomorrow.
"I'm just going to pray that he's going to be okay and we're going to find a way if he's not," Lonergan said.
Wednesday night's opening minutes were stagnant. With George Washington committing a series of turnovers, and La Salle's relatively cold shooting, the lead swapped five times before the tempo of the game changed.
A little over midway through the first, the Colonials switched their defense into a 1-3-1 zone. With that rotation, they effectively unraveled La Salle's offense for the rest of the half.
The Explorers entered a scoring drought that threatened to stretch until halftime, and George Washington exploded out on a decisive scoring run. The final tally was 19 unanswered Colonial points - the same amount of points that La Salle had, in total, before scoring its first points in seven minutes and 26 seconds of play.
Turnovers and shooting struggles became the story of La Salle's game. The Explorers couldn't make much happen offensively Wednesday night, stymied as soon as they stepped into the lane.
"(La Salle) is known for getting into the lane and creating, that's basically how their offense is running. So coming into the game, we wanted to make that a goal of ours," Armwood said. "To keep them out of the lane and contain their pressure."
The Colonials, meanwhile, turned in a consistently hot-shooting performance. Their dominant performance in the first continued into the second, the team unshaken by the loss of McDonald.
Off the hot-handed performance of four double-figure shooters, the Colonials posted a 52.4 shooting percentage on the night, padding that with an 42-30 advantage on the boards. George Washington's length and size kept La Salle from forming any kind of inside game, earning a 30-16 margin in points in the paint.
"They put some good scouting report things in there. They covered certain guys, they didn't cover certain other guys, we just couldn't exploit it," Giannini said.
The Colonials next head to Dayton Feb. 1, while La Salle hosts Duquense Saturday.