George Washington, with three starters having fouled out in regulation, held off American University, 91-89, in overtime last night at Fort Myer in a college basketball game worthy of the very best in intracity rivalries.

American got back into the contest with a quick, swarming defense in the final 10 minutes of regulation after trailing by 12 points at the midway point of the second half.

GW, worried that AR's gambling defense would steal the ball if the Colonials tried to stall, stayed in its normal offense, getting vital points from guard Brian Magid and center Mike Zagardo, the only GW starters not fouled out.

But the Colonials could not be sure of their seventh victory, against six losses, until AU star forward Boo Bowers, who played an excellent game, missed an 18-foot jump shot with seven seconds to play and GW freshman Paul Gracza controlled the rebound with four seconds left.

All 2,375 spectators -- and, of course, the Colonials -- knew AU Coach Gary Williams would go to Bowers, who had carried the Eagle offense all evening, scoring 27 points despite tenacious guarding earlier by GW's Mike Samson.

"We were really happy to get Bowers the shot we did," Williams said. "Everybody knew what we were soing to do. (Mark) Garlitos did a great job of getting the ball to him,"

Ironically, Bowers had missed a jumper at the end of regulation, with the Eagles down, 79-77. Gracza had done a fine job boxing out Mike Abner pushing the AU player under the basket, but Bowers' shot was so short that the ball fell almost straight down, into Abner's hands. He put in the short followup shot that sent the game into overtime.

Both at the end of regulation and at the end of the overtime, GW freshmen -- first Gracza, then guard Jimmy Stepp -- missed bonus free throws that would have clinched a victory without further nail-biting.

Stepp and Gracza more than made up for those misses with their ball- handling and defense down the stretch, Stepp taking two charges by AU guard Stan Lamb, the last of which sent the Eagles' leading scorer out of the game with 2:45 left in overtime.

Lamb, defended closely by GW's Tom Tate until the Colonials switched to a zone midway through the second half, finished with 15 points, 10 below his average and his second lowest game of the season.

Mike Samson followed his careerhigh 35 points against Pitt Saturday with 26 last night before fouling out with 1:11 left in overtime.

"Sitting there watching the game, not being able to do anything, is the most horrible feeling in the world," he said. "And then it's the greatest feeling in the world to see the freshmen come through."

Even GW Coach Bob Tallent thought the Colonials were through when point guard Tate, who handles a press better than any other Colonial, fouled out with 4:36 to play, being drawn into the foul by Bowers' terrific move in the lane.

But sophomore Curtis Jeffries held the Colonials together, even though they lost the six-point lead they had when Tate fouled out.

AU missed almost a third of its free throws, and Williams and reserve forward Leon Kearney will remember for a long time the on Kearney missed with 1:37 to play and the Eagles in position to score seven points in one possession and probably win the game.

GW was ahead, 75-70, when Colonial forward Tom Glenn was caught by referee Joe Forte shoving Kearney under the basket as Lamb sank a jump shot. As Forte walked to the scorer's table to report the foul, Glenn walked beside him as he went to the bench with his fifth foul.

Glenn said something and Forte called a technical. Kearney missed the first of his one-and-one foul shots. Garlitos then made the technical shot.AU trailed, 75-73, and Garlitos quickly tied the game at 75. Then Magid hit two long jumpers for GW.

Had Kearney made his free throws, Williams said, the Eagles would have held the ball for the final shot.

AU again found itself going uphill at the start of overtime, when Gracza took the tap and scored on a breakaway. There was some confusion, as the clock failed to start and the horn sounded. But there was no whistle, and Williams had no beef afterward, saying, "They've got to play until they hear a whistle."

Zagardo, who had 22 points, and Magid, who had 10 of his 16 points in the final eight minutes, scored the rest of GW's points. Zagardo's two free throws gave GW a 91-87 lead with 47 seconds to play. Garlitos answered with a jumper. Then Stepp Missed his free throw, but the Eagles could not get the tying hoop to send their second straight game into double overtime.

AU is now 8-7, with four straight losses.