Colonials' zone keeps them in it against veteran Billikens

Before a recent practice, George Washington coach Mike Lonergan joked that he would like to have flip-flopped his Atlantic 10 schedule, playing the teams scheduled at home on the road and vice versa.

The slate at Smith Center has been daunting indeed with dates against Temple, Charlotte, La Salle, Butler and defending A-10 champion St. Bonaventure.

On Saturday, the toughest conference opponent yet arrived in deep, experienced No. 18 Saint Louis. GW gave itself a chance to pull off a major upset by disrupting the Billikens' rhythm in the second half with a trapping 1-3-1 press until fatigue set in, and Saint Louis escaped Smith Center with a hard-earned 66-58 victory before 3,258.

While Saint Louis (23-5, 12-2) captured its 11th straight game in the rugged A-10 behind junior Dwayne Evans (22 points, 12 rebounds, four steals) and senior Kwamain Mitchell (18 points), GW was left to lick its wounds after falling for the fourth time at home to a conference opponent by a single-digit margin. The defeats have all come against teams in the top five in the A-10 standings.

"We're getting closer definitely, but we get those five-minute lapses every half, so it makes it hard to play a team like that," freshman Kevin Larsen (14 points) said. "We have to keep working hard to put a full game together."

Saint Louis led by eight points early in the second half but showed cracks as GW switched from a man-to-man to a havoc-inducing zone. A 3-pointer by senior Dwayne Smith (10 points) and steals by freshman Patricio Garino (eight points, six rebounds, four steals) and senior Lasan Kromah (12 points, four assists) produced fast-break points as GW went on a 16-6 run. With Kromah scoring the final six points of the spree, the Colonials took a 48-45 lead with seven minutes left.

But after that, Saint Louis asserted its pedigree. Eight of the Billikens' rotation players are age 21 or older, and seven have been together in the lineup for Saint Louis for at least three seasons.

"I didn't think it was because we were playing scared or anything like that. We just happened at times to get a little tight," GW coach Mike Lonergan said. "When you're playing a team like that, there's not as much margin for error."

After trailing, Saint Louis responded with 10 straight points. Evans, the Billikens' powerfully built 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward, ignited the charge with a layup and a pair of free throws, then kept Saint Louis in command as he scored 12 of his points in the final seven minutes.

It was another tough-to-swallow loss for GW (12-15, 6-8), which is teetering on the fringe of the A-10 standings. The Colonials may need another win -- at Xavier on Wednesday or at home against Dayton on Saturday -- to earn a trip to Brooklyn for the conference tournament. Twelve of the league's 16 teams will advance.

"This time of the season is no time for a moral victory," Kromah said. "These next two games will really be important for us."