NEW YORK (AP) George Washington looked right at home in Madison Square Garden, even though the arena was unfamiliar territory.
Tyler Cavanaugh had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Colonials advanced to the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament by throttling San Diego State in a 65-46 victory Tuesday night.
Patricio Garino added 13 points for the fourth-seeded Colonials (27-10), who committed only six turnovers. They matched the school record for wins in a season and won in their first visit to the Garden since 2001.
George Washington will play for the NIT crown Thursday night against Valparaiso, a 72-70 winner over BYU in the first semifinal.
''I told them, `I want them to leave a legacy,''' coach Mike Lonergan said. ''I can't wait for Thursday night.''
Dakarai Allen had 13 points for No. 2 seed San Diego State (28-10), which struggled to score at times throughout the season and had a dreadful shooting night at the wrong time.
The Aztecs fell behind by double digits late in the first half and then had trouble with George Washington's 1-3-1 zone. They shot 28.8 percent from the field, including 3 for 22 from 3-point range.
''I think our inability to make shots affected our concentration at the other end, and all of a sudden you've got a snowball going downhill that turns into a gigantic glacier as it builds up steam,'' SDSU 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.''
While the other three semifinalists had long trips to New York, George Washington's campus is about 225 miles away down I-95 in Washington, D.C. And though the Colonials hadn't been to the Garden in 15 years, they did play four games in New York City this season - all at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Lonergan thought that helped, along with all the GW fans in the crowd of 8,298.
''I think we are more confident than ever right now,'' Garino said.
One reason is Cavanaugh, who came in averaging 21.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in the first three games of the tournament.
Joe McDonald, playing through a sprained ankle, had nine points and six assists for the Colonials, who start players from Japan, Argentina and Denmark. They beat then-No. 6 Virginia back in November and showed no jitters whatsoever in their first trip to the NIT semifinals.
''The thing that kept us from making the NCAA Tournament was really our defense. I could never get it up to par,'' Lonergan said. ''But they were really motivated going to the NIT and we've been good offensively all year and they really started playing team defense.''
Winston Shepard had seven points on 3-for-13 shooting in his final college game for San Diego State. Sophomore guard Trey Kell, the team's leading scorer, also finished with seven.
''We've been playing really good basketball lately and shots have been falling, and one of the biggest games of the year, we couldn't buy a bucket. Just real bad timing,'' senior big man Skylar Spencer said.
Lonergan said one of the highlights of his life was hearing his name announced at Madison Square Garden in the distinctive voice of the late John Condon, the arena's longtime public-address announcer. Lonergan said he played at the Garden for Catholic University against NYU in a 1980s matchup of Division III powers, the opener of a doubleheader that featured Georgetown and St. John's. ''It was awesome,'' Lonergan said. ''I thought it was the coolest thing. ... I was like, goose bumps, when the guy said my name.''
For most SDSU players, this trip marked their first visit to New York City. The team took a private tour of the 9/11 memorial site at the World Trade Center after practice Monday. ''That will be wonderful,'' Fisher said before the tour. ''When we go places, I think that's important, if you have the opportunity, to give them a little feeling for the history of where you are and the significance, especially a place like here. I think it was very important that we did something like that.'' Kell said he and his teammates walked around Times Square on Sunday night, and he tried a hot dog from a street vendor. ''It was really good,'' he said.
George Washington: The Colonials equaled the program record for wins set during the 2005-06 season. ... George Washington improved to 2-8 at Madison Square Garden. The previous victory came in November 1994 against Memphis, a third-place game in the Preseason NIT.
San Diego State: Fisher, who led Michigan to the 1997 NIT championship, was trying to become the second coach to win the tournament at two schools. Dave Odom did it at Wake Forest and South Carolina.
George Washington: NIT championship game Thursday night against Valparaiso.
San Diego State: Season is over.