Patricio Garino does the postgame honors, cutting net after George Washington's NIT championship win. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)
BY RAY FLORIANI
New York City- A first time champion was going to be crowned.
Valparaiso and George Washington, past NIT participants, never advanced this far. The setting, Madison Square Garden, was a fitting locale to bestow a first national championship on the winner.
A dominant final twenty minutes helped George Washington break open a close game at the intermission, coupled with a 7-2 spurt over the first three possessions of the second half. The Colonials were never threatened after that en route to a 76-60 victory and the NIT title.
First Half: If there are any nerves present, George Washington is not showing them. At the 12-minute mark, they have a 16-10 lead, far from a rout, yet a sign the Colonials are putting their stamp on the contest in the early going. GW is utilizing their zone, and Valpo’s offense varies from four out to three-out, two-in. Valpo is attacking, not simply firing from the perimeter. Rather, dribble penetration is a key, getting in the gut of the zone. GW misses a three that could have put them up 11, and Valpo answers with an 8-0 run to tie the score at 24 with just over five minutes remaining. Simply said, for all GW threw at them these first 20 minutes, you knew Valpo would not go away.
Halftime: GW 32, Valpo 31
Possessions: GW 32, Valpo 31
Offensive efficiency: GW 100, Valpo 100
Second Half: The Colonials score on their first three trips winning the first five possessions 7-2. Postgame interviews on Tuesday heralded the importance of the first four minutes after halftime as being critical. Obviously, the Colonials heeded the measure and acted on it. Matt Hart buries a three to put GW up a dozen with the same amount of minutes remaining. At the eight-minute mark, the Colonial lead is still twelve. Time and numbers say Valpo can come back. The flip side is the momentum issue. At this point, George Washington appears in complete control of this one. Kevin Larsen’s three puts GW up 13 with just under six minutes to go. The proverbial dagger? It appears that was the case. George Washington, in the driver’s seat, managed the game, closing out for the NIT championship.
Final: George Washington 76, Valparaiso 60
Possessions: Valpo 66, GW 65
Offensive efficiency: GW 117, Valpo 91
eFG%: GW 52, Valpo 46
Free Throw Rate: GW 50, Valpo 10
Offensive Rebound%: GW 23, Valpo 28
Turnover Rate: GW 12, Valpo 21
What George Washington did well: Defend. As coach Mike Lonergan and his players noted, the defense has gotten better as the tournament progressed. So have the Colonials. Tonight, they held Valparaiso to 91 efficiency, forcing a 21 percent turnover rate. Part of that defensive effort was allowing a 10 percent free throw rate (just six attempts) for the Crusaders.
What Valparaiso did well: Rebound. The 28-23 edge in offensive rebounding percentage was made possible by a 10-7 lead in raw offensive board numbers.
NOTES: The officiating crew was national championship-caliber with Mike Roberts, Jeff Anderson and Ed Corbett on the contest. George Washington finished 28-10, while Valparaiso concluded their campaign 30-7.
Making most of the opportunity, Valpo shot a perfect 6-of-6 from the line. Valpo led 31-24 on points in the paint. GW put those turnovers to offensive use, outscoring the Crusaders 20-13 on points off turnovers. The Colonials had four double figure scorers, Valpo had just one.
NIT Most Outstanding Player- Tyler Cavanaugh, George Washington
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Kevin Larsen, George Washington
Joe McDonald, George Washington
Patricio Garino, George Washington
Following a 100 offensive efficiency the first half, Valpo cooled off to 82 over the last twenty minutes. That proved to be the game changer.
“Couldn’t be happier winning this NIT championship. Heartbroken not getting in the NCAA, but each game in the NIT, we played better. Happy for our seniors who contributed so much. Huge win for our program. A lot of people lose the NIT and they say ‘we didn’t want to be there.’ I don’t believe that. I thought we could get in the NCAA and possibly go to the Sweet 16. We didn’t, and I think this is huge for our program and university. Next year, I think Tyler can be a conference player of the year type. Our players have tasted winning. That changes things. That has players working harder in the offseason and doing those things to win. Our guys know how hungry I am.I was very selective on the type of job I took. I enjoyed Vermont, but going to George Washington was like coming home. This is fun for me going against these coaches that are famous, it really is. I thought we struggled early. Second half, Kevin (Larsen) went at them and got them in foul trouble. I thought our defense was good tonight and beginning with Monmouth, our defense was very good and helped us get better each game. Our defense picked up and our guys really believed defense wins championships.” - George Washington coach Mike Lonergan
“To leave with an NIT championship is so special. Not a lot of teams that can play their last game for a championship and on this stage. As Coach said, we got better as the tournament went on, and it started with defense.” - Joe McDonald
“NCAA is always the goal, but we proved this year you can make a lot of memories with this tournament. We played two tough teams and handled them well here. It began with defense.“ - Tyler Cavanaugh
“When we come to New York, we feel at home: Alumni,students, good fan base supporting us. We feel like we have an advantage playing in New York.” - Patricio Garino