Watanabe, GW claim place in NIT title game

by

Staff Writer

The George Washington men’s basketball team didn’t receive an invitation to the 68-team NCAA Tournament.

Instead, Plan B has worked out quite well for rising star Yuta Watanabe and his Colonials teammates.

GW defeated San Diego State 65-46 on Tuesday in the NIT semifinals in New York, continuing an impressive postseason run.

The Colonials will face Valparaiso in Thursday’s NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.

GW coach Mike Lonergan has challenged his team, speaking about the magnitude of the upcoming National Invitation Tournament finale.

“I told them, ‘I want them to leave a legacy,’ ” Lonergan was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “I can’t wait for Thursday night.”

The Colonials already made program history by making an NIT semifinals appearance for the first time on Tuesday.

Second-seeded GW (27-10) jumped out to a 35-20 halftime lead, including a 16-4 spurt to conclude the opening half.

For Lonergan’s team, effective zone defense fueled the victory. The Colonials held SDSU to 3-for-22 shooting from 3-point range; overall, the Aztecs shot 28.8 percent (17 of 59).

SDSU committed 11 turnovers and GW capitalized on those mistakes, outscoring its foe 15-3 on points off takeaways.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said, “George Washington had a lot to do with us playing poorly. They sliced and diced us at our defensive end and put us in positions that put us a little bit out of character.”

Dakarai Allen led SDSU with 13 points.

Early in the second half, Watanabe buried a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 40-24, and the rout was on.

Watanabe, a sophomore from Kagawa Prefecture, made a solid impact, knocking down two 3s and contributing eight points in the win. He grabbed eight rebounds, dished out two assists and finished with one steal and one block in 33 minutes. He also continued his aggressive defense and drew a charge in the game.

In the paint: Former bj-league rebounding standout Chris Holm is a first-year Colonials staff member, serving as assistant director of basketball operations. … Valparaiso also has ties to Japanese basketball. Longtime bj-league guard Matt Lottich, a star on the Osaka Evessa championship dynasty, is in his third year as an assistant coach.