Yuta Watanabe does it all in GW’s season opening win over Howard
Yuta Watanabe does it all in GW’s season opening win over Howard:-The final seconds were ticking away on George Washington’s 84-75 victory over Howard on Friday, a season-opening result that had hung in the balance until a last-minute parade to the free throw line.
Before the buzzer sounded, however, Yuta Watanabe punctuated his personal highlight film and GW’s 40-minute high-flying act by swatting R.J. Cole’s meaningless layup attempt.
It was the seventh block for the 6-foot-9 Japanese senior, who has arms with the reach and speed of helicopter rotor blades. Carrying enormous responsibility on a team with nine newcomers, Watanabe also contributed 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists as the Colonials took charge in the second half and thwarted the Bison’s late surge before 3,831, including Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, at Smith Center.
“Yuta getting seven blocks is absolutely remarkable,” GW Coach Maurice Joseph said. “He’s an unbelievable defender, an unbelievable talent, and he saved us a few times tonight.”
Watanabe had plenty of support. Patrick Steeves, a graduate student who previously played at Harvard, added 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and sophomore guard Jair Bolden added 17 points.
The biggest surprise came from Bo Zeigler, a 6-6 graduate student formerly with South Florida, who came off the bench to shoot 8 for 9, including six dunks, and finished with 16 points in just 20 minutes.
“I got hyped every time he dunked,” Watanabe said. “That was amazing. We need an energy guy, and Bo is an energy guy. Every time he dunked, not only me, but the bench was going crazy. The fans were going crazy. I really appreciate what he did.”
Joseph was impressed but not surprised by Zeigler’s electrifying contributions after seeing him perform in preseason.
“He’s got jet packs, man,” Joseph said. “He has some freakish-type plays, but we definitely needed that because we were stagnant. He got the crowd into it. He got our team into it.”
Cole, a freshman, had 23 points and Charles Williams added 21 for the Bison, who will visit Indiana on Sunday and No. 18 Gonzaga on Tuesday as part of a seven-game stretch of road games to start the season.
Howard finished 10-24 last season but advanced to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference semifinals. This year, the Bison are picked for eighth place in the 13-team league. James Daniel, the nation’s leading scorer in 2015-16 who missed last season with an injury, transferred to Tennessee.
The Colonials ended the first half on an 8-2 run for a 40-36 lead. Steeves had a hook, a jumper and a bounce pass to the cutting Watanabe for a two-handed dunk.
Watanabe and Steeves combined for 10-for-13 shooting, and GW finished the half by making 10 of 12 from the field. The Bison made 7 of 14 three-pointers in the first half, five coming from freshmen.
GW began to create separation early in the second half, powered by Zeigler, who, in the space of four possessions, brought the crowd to its feet with three dunks. On the first one, he poked the ball from Kyle Foster at midcourt and breezed to the basket. On the last, Justin Mazzulla lobbed him an inbounds pass for a thunderous one-hander.
“Just try to provide a spark any way I can, whether it’s getting a steal, offensive rebounds,” Zeigler said. “Obviously, tonight was the dunks.”
The Bison went five minutes without a field goal.
Bolden was the inbounds supplier for Zeigler’s power finish and Steeves set him up for another authoritative alley-oop.
Zeigler’s one-handed dunk over a defender with about three minutes left seemed to put the outcome to rest, but the Bison kept coming.
With the lead down to four, Watanabe swatted Cole’s three-point attempt and got the ball back for a breakaway dunk with 1:10 left. Six free throws secured the outcome.
“We’re a work in progress,” Joseph said. “We’re getting better every day. We’re a young team, still figuring out our chemistry, but I liked the step we took today in a tough situation.”
Note: For the 2018-19 season, the Colonials announced the signing of Mezie Offurum, a 6-6 forward from Georgetown Prep; Marcus Littles, a 6-9 forward from Philadelphia; and Shandon Brown, a 5-10 guard from Boston.