It was one of those rare occasions when a team takes a coach's pregame plan and executes it almost to perfection on the court. But American University had no other choice but to be perfect if it wanted to beat George Washington yesterday.
Playing against an opponent gifted with superior talent, the Eagles shot almost 63 percent, committed just 13 turnovers and got 47 points from Russell Bowers and Howie Lassoff to upset the Colonials, 82-78, in Smith Center.
Jim Lynam is one of the best coaches in America, but there is no way we should lose to American," GW Coach Bob Tallent said afterward.
But yesterday the Eagles played about as close to their potential as possible. They did everything Lynam asked: stop GW from running, don't get overwhelmed on the boards and make a zone defense work. And they added another dimension by shooting better than in any previous game this year.
Lynam showed his respect for GW's ability by going to a spread offense --"Call it our spread-to-score offense" --with 16:24 left in the second half after grabbing a 50-46 lead.
"Howie was getting a little tired and we wanted to start running the clock down," said Lynam. "The later you go in a game, the more fatigue sets in and your regular offense breaks down.
"When we go to the spread, all we want is layups. That keeps your shot selection just right."
The spread also creates matchup problems, as GW soon discovered. Tal lent had to try to match with Bowers and Stan Lamb, who added 14 points, and he wound up watching much of the last half with his best rebounder, 6-foot-10 center Mike Zagardo, on the bench.
Tallent later complained about the lack of motivation on his club -- "We weren't ready to play" -- and how no Colonial played defense, especially Zagardo and forward Les Anderson.* But a lot GW's difficulties were created by American's fine outside quickness.
Once the Eagles went to the spread, they increased their lead to as many as 12 points. They were trying only layups or wide-open jumpers which was reflected in their eight-for-14 shooting at the beginning of the half.
Bowers especially was proving to be a thorn in GW's side. Anderson couldn't handle him and the GW forward was replaced by Mike Samson, who didn't have much better luck.* Bowers either drove past his defenders or pulled up for a jumper. He had 27 of AU's first 66 points.
By then, AU was riding high on emotion. The five-man Eagle coaching staff was off the bench and yelling on almost every play.
Meanwhile, Tallent was simmering on his bench. His club, which had 14 field goals within 10 feet of the basket in the first half, suddenly wasn't able to penetrate the AU zone and was setting for erratic outside shots. He kept shuttling players in and out, hoping to find a combination that would click.
He made the proper discovery with AU ahead, 69-58. He brought in Bucky Roman to go with Tom Glenn, Tom Tate, Daryle Charles and Bob Lindsay.* GW's defense toughened AU got careless and the Colonials began a run.
Charles made a foul shot, Glenn added two more and Tate hit two straight perimeter jumpers around three AU turnovers. Glenn finished off the spurt with a 10-footer and the Colonials quickly had closed to within 69-67.
"Tighten it up, tighten it up," yelled Lyman to his players. Reserve Donald Kelly responded by driving for the basket. He put the shot up, Glenn blocked it but was called for goal tending. A couple of missed GW shots, a turnover, two AU free throws and, finally, a driving fast-break layup by Bowers and the Eagles were in control again.
"We knew the run was coming, sometime," said Lassoff. "Then it was a matter of doing a good job of stopping them.
"We had to go to the tease. It brought GW to us and then it let our guards use their quickness. They couldn't handle us out front."
GW now goes on to the Eastern Eight Tournament Thursday in Pittsburgh while AU plays a first-round East Coast Conference playoff game Monday in Fort Myer, probably against Hofstra. But for a few hours yesterday, Lynam just wanted to savor his 15th victory of the year.
"It's nice, it's nice," he kept telling everyone who wanted to shake his hand. "This one is really sweet."