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George Washington vs. Valparaiso final score, 2016 NIT championship: Colonials win, 76-60

The Colonials are NIT champions after pulling away from the Crusaders.

George Washington capped an impressive run through the NIT by beating Valparaiso, 76-60, on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The Colonials clinched the championship of college basketball's top consolation tournament, sending off a decorated senior class in style at the world's most famous arena.

A balanced, veteran scoring attack pushed the Colonials over the top. Seniors Kevin Larsen, Patricio Garino and Joe McDonald scored 18, 14 and 13 points, respectively, and junior Tyler Cavanaugh added 12. The game wasn't an offensive exhibition, but GW outscored Valpo in the second half by a 44-29 margin to earn the win.

The teams played a tight first half, and George Washington headed to the break with a 32-31 lead. The Colonials didn't distinguish themselves until the second 20 minutes, which they started on a 9-2 run. That gave them the initial separation that set the tone as the game rolled toward the finish, and the gap widened as the half wore on. What started as a tight game turned into a cruise to the finish for GW.

The Colonials put a nice exclamation point on an interesting season. They looked for a while like an NCAA Tournament team, posting a marquee early-season home win against eventual No. 1 seed Virginia and quality wins later on against Seton Hall and at VCU. But they were uneven in the Atlantic 10, finishing with an 11-7 league record and a second-game loss in the conference tournament.

That landed them in the NIT, and they didn't waste the chance. The Colonials beat Hofstra, Monmouth, Florida and San Diego State to reach the final, before they took care of Valparaiso to end the season.

Under head coach Mike Lonergan, George Washington has come together in a unique way. The Colonials were down when Lonergan took over the program in 2011, and while they've still got a long way to go to be a consistent tournament contender, they've made notable progress. A key part in that has been international talent, with Lonergan and his staff aggressively pursuing foreign players at U.S. high schools and bringing them to Foggy Bottom, selling them on the school's international reputation and Washington's vast cultural offerings.

In the class of 2012, Lonergan added Argentine wing Garino and Danish center Larsen. Both were four-year starters for the Colonials and reached one NCAA Tournament, in 2014. On Thursday, their college careers got a happy ending.