Colonials unafraid of No. 14 Bulldogs

It's been less than two years since Mike Lonergan was hired at George Washington. But after the additions of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, coaching in the Atlantic 10 isn't what he signed up for.

"I was like, 'Can I go back to Vermont?' " Lonergan joked.

But Saturday when George Washington (11-10, 5-3) plays host to No. 14 Butler (19-4, 6-2), there's no place Lonergan would rather be than sold out Smith Center. His surprise team, with four freshmen in the starting lineup, has a chance to make a major statement.

Up Next
No. 14 Butler at George Washington
When » Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where » Smith Center
TV » CSN Mid-Atlantic

GW has been here before, playing important games at home in front of rowdy fans cheering for a breakthough. But in single-digit losses to Kansas State (now ranked No. 13), Temple and La Salle, the Colonials have shown they've been good enough to win and young enough to lose.

"This is a great measuring stick for us," Lonergan said. "It's exciting that we're playing a ranked team. Right now everybody knows about Butler and getting to play them at home is great for our fans."

The last time Butler came to Washington, D.C., was for the NCAA tournament two years ago. In thrilling wins by two points over Old Dominion and one point over top-seeded Pittsburgh, the Bulldogs showed the finishing touch in the clutch that the Colonials are seeking. That year, Butler reached the title game for the second straight time.

After an uncharacteristic down year (22-15) following the departures of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, Butler has re-discovered its formula -- defense and 3-point shooting -- with the help of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke (17.1 ppg).

The 6-foot junior, who is hitting 44.0 percent of his 3-pointers, will be guarded by GW defensive stopper Patricio Garino, a 6-5 freshman who has befuddled players of all shapes and sizes this year.

"This kid has completely changed their team for the better," Lonergan said of Clarke. "They are very tough to guard because they have so many weapons. They've got five or six guys who can really hurt you, put up some points."

Butler is the rare team that has five double-digit scorers. Andrew Smith (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), a 6-11 senior, is a holdover from coach Brad Stevens' NCAA finals teams. Roosevelt Jones (10.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg), a 6-4 sophomore, made one of the Bulldogs' biggest plays of the season three Saturdays ago when he stole an inbound pass and made a desperation buzzer-beater to turn defeat into victory against Gonzaga.

The biggest basket of the year came in December when reserve Alex Barlow hit a driving, spinning jumper with 2.4 seconds left as Butler toppled in-state rival and then No. 1-ranked Indiana, 88-86 in overtime at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

While Butler's tradition, ranking and accomplishments may be daunting, their talent isn't. The Colonials believe they can match up.

"We're coming in confident that if we execute our stuff we can do it. It's not about them, it's about us," guard Lasan Kromah said. "We pride ourselves on our defensive play. The offense will handle itself."

For a mid-major team like GW looking to stake its claim, Butler serves as the model of excellence.

"They're very successful. I think they do things the right way. They have a great fan base. They have one of the most famous arenas in the country so they've got a lot going for them," Lonergan said. "We think we've got a lot going for us -- the location, Washington, D.C., the academic ranking of the school. We're trying to get back to where GW basketball was not too long ago."

A win over Butler would be a giant step in that direction.