George Washington forward Mike Samson played the basketball game of his life against Pittsburgh last night. As a result, the struggling Colonials stayed alive in the Eastern Eight with a 94-83 victory.
Samson, a 6-foot-4 senior, scored 35 points, equaling the Smith Center record, and grabbed 17 rebounds in a most physical game that ended in a fistfight between GW's Tom Tate and Pitt's Dwayne Wallace.
Had the Colonials not won, they would have been 0-3 in the league with two home losses and almost eliminated from a chance at finishing among the league's top four teams and hosting a first-round game in the tournament to decide the league's NCAA berth.
This game and GW's contest at Rutgers Thursday -- when Tate also came up swinging after getting pounded -- showed the two obvious traits of this league: Play is very physical and the officials let the home team get away with a lot more contact.
Samson made 15 of 22 shots. His previous high was 20 points against Dickinson, a Division III team.He fouled out with 1:40 to play last night, the fifth time he has reached the limit in GW's 6-6 season.
A decision Coach Bob Tallent made three games ago obviously is paying dividends in thecase of Samson, GW's sixth man last season. Samson, although smaller, plays better inside than GW's other starting forward, 6-8 junior Tom Glenn.
So, Tallent is using Samson as the big forward on offense, takingadvantage of his quickness, hustle and aggressiveness inside. Last night, Samson scored 13 of his points off offensive rebounds.
"I like playing inside," he said. "I always played inside in high school. Nobody was boxing me out all night. They were all concentrating on (center Mike) Zagardo."
Samson, already accepted into GW's medical school, said he had never scored more points at any level of basketball.
"It was a heck of a game for him," said Tallent. "He could have been nine for 10 in the first half if he hadn't taken those two shots out of his range. I told him about it at halftiem. That's the way he can play; he's a slasher and a rebounder. He stayed out of foul trouble long enough tonight."
Until Pitt started overplaying him late in the game and allowed the other Colonials, especially Zagardo, easy back-door layups, Samson was responsible for i9 of the Colonials' first 59 points. He scored 22 in the first half, and made some mightly defensive plays.
His value against a Pitt team that got into foul trouble early -- three of its starters eventually fouled out -- was obvious when Tallent gave Samson a rest with the Colonials ahead, 36-25, and six minutes remained in the first half.
At this stage Pitt Coach Tim Grgurich called back Sammie Ellis and Wayne Williams, two starters who quickly had colected three fouls, and the Panthers closed to 36-32.
Tallent quickly called time, got Samson back into the game and watched contentedly as Samson took the ball along the baseline to the hoop, then took a charge from Sam Clancy after the Pitt center had gooten past Zagardo.
Pitt still closed the gap to 43-42 at halftime, but Samson had settled down the Colonials, who had collapsed near the end of the first half of games against Rutgers and Maryland.
Samson made his presence known again early in the second half, grabbing an offensive reboundand ending up with a three-point play that gave GW a little breathing room at 48-43.
He got two more baskets as GW again opened its advantage to 11 points, at 59-48. When Pitt closed to 63-58, Samson once more made the big play.
An alleyoop pass to Glenn went awry.Zagardo came up with the ball, but a Pitt player stripped it from him. Samson hustled for the loose ball, got it, put up one shot, missed, fought for the rebound and finally his perseverence paid off with a successful follow shot. It also helped the Colonials gain a 48-39 edge in rebounding.
When Pitt, down, 77-71, tried a fullcourt press, Tate dodged the doubleteamming a gainst him at midcourt and hit Samson with the pass that gave him a layup to equals the record for the 4-year-old Smith Center.
The game was GW's leaving Pitt 1-1 in the league and 6-6 overall. But there were some tense moments because Tate missed six straight free throws, then the fight broke out with 46 seconds to play.
Referee Mike Sierco already had called Scott Grevey for fouling Curt Jeffries on the inbounds pass. Wallace and Tate were bumping each other near the corner. They started swinging, then some fans got into the fray. But there was no serious damage, although both Tate and Wallace were ejected.