As the buzzer sounds, the basketball hangs precariously on the rim. If it falls in. George Washington ties up the game and a second overtime will be necessary. If it falls out, Virginia Tech wins.
It fell out.
And when it did, GW assistant coach Tom Schneider was flat on the floor in disgust and the Colonial players were left wondering how they ever lost and 75-73 heart-stopper at Smith Center.
As poorly as GW played for most of the evening, the Colonies somehow stumbled upon ways to almost pull out a victory.
First, they overcame a four-point deficit in the last 12 seconds of regulation when guard Tom Tate sank two foul shots and then hit an incredible 40-footer at the buzzer.
Then, after Tech missed two shots in the final 25 seconds of overtime, GW had one last chance. Forward Mike Sampson missed a 15-footer. The ball bounded to John Holloran, who failed on a 12-footer. Les Anderson tipped the rebound and missed. Then Tom Glenn tried a tip - and that one hung on the rim.
As everyone in Smith Center held their breath, the ball trickled around the back of the rim, tilted as if it were going in, and then dropped to the floor.
"I thought it was going in, I really did," said GW coach Bob Tallent. So did his players. But they were wrong and now GW has lost two straight since defeating Maryland a week ago, a victory everyone thought would turn this season into a smashing success for the Colonials.
Instead, they have an 11-7 record, which Tallent described as "not too good, nothing like it should be."
Their seventh lost will haunt them for days, especially after they review how they let the victory slip away.
Tech, which controlled things most of the way, had a 65-61 lead in regulation with 29 seconds left. Holloran, who scored 29 points, failed on a 14-footer. Tate, who had just come into the game with Samson, was fouled in a scramble for the rebound with 12 seconds to go.
He made both ends of a one-and-end: Tech got the ball out of bounds under pressure, only to have Samson pick off Phil Thieneman's pass at midcourt. Samson quickly passed to Tate four steps inside the midcourt line and the sophomore guard, who had not taken a shot, let go a two-handed push attempt.
The ball hit the backboard and slammed in as the buzzer sounded. Tate was mobbed by his teammates! Tallent lectured, "Play smart and we can win this one."
However, the Colonials, who had problems executing their offense sharply all night, didn't listen. Two minutes into overtime, they had forced three shots and were behind by four points. That margin grew to six before they started yet another charge.
Getting some welcome help from erratic Tech foul shooting, GW got six quick points from Holloran, including a jumper with 21 seconds remaining, to pull to 75-73. The Colonials then fouled Ron Bell, who missed the free throw with 13 seconds remaining.
The Colonials rushed the ball down court, but were thwarted when their assaults on the bucket wouldn't go in.
Their poor shooting, however wasn't confined to that one span. GW hit only 43 per cent of its attempts for the night, thanks in part to a tenacious Tech defense which gave up few easy baskets.
"They are a hell of a team," said Tallent. "They wouldn't let us do anything easy. But if we could have just gotten ahead in the second half, maybe we could have broken it open."
Tech (13-7) got above-average games from some such unexpected sources as center Ernest Wansley, who controlled the backboard in overtime, and guard Ron Edwards, who had eight points in the second half, seven above his seasonal average.
Edwards, Bell and Ashford also took turns shadowing Holloran, who had to force a number of second-half shots after a five-for-seven first-half effort. He suffered through one eight-minute span after intermission without scoring, during which GW's offense was particularly lethargic.
Still, the Colonials had their chances, lots of them, to win. "I didn't think we had it won when Tate's shot went in," said Tallent, "but I sure thought it looked good for us. This was a tough one to lose."