Christmas almost came early for Mount St. Mary's last night. George Washington tried desperately to give the basketball game away in the second half before sinking 15 straight free throws to put away the pesky Mountaineers, 75-65, before 1,000 fans at the Smith Center.
"I never felt so bad about a win in my life," said irate GW Coach Bob Tallent. "No enthusiasm, no intensity, nothing. No one played well. It was the worst exhibition of basketball I've ever seen."
GW committed enough boo-boos to pluck Tallent's last nerve. On three occasions in the second half, the Colonials opened up nine-point leads and appeared on their way to the rout so many expected.
Each time, the Mountaineers (6-1) took advantage of some form of Colonial friendly hospitality to storm back.
Midway in the second half, Brian Magid (18 points) made one of his customary long-range bombs and a pair of free throws to give GW (3-2) a 53-44 lead with 8:01 to play.
The Colonials then went into another of their sleepwalking periods and Jim Rowe, Dennis Dempsey and Steve Rossignoli scored baskets around a Mike Zagardo free throw to cut the hosts' advantage to 54-50 with 6:04 left.
Magid, converting all 10 of his free throws (perfect on 20 attempts from the line this season), sank another pair and Tom Glenn turned in a three-point play to give the Colonials another nine-point lead, 59-50.
But the hustling Mounties repeatedly worked their way free for open 18-footers and layups to cut the deficit to four again, 67-63, with 1:50 remaining.
"We had a lot of opportunities. We were trailing by four a few times and were in the one-and-one. And usually, we are a good shooting team," said Mount Coach Jim Phelan. "We've had proplems putting two good halves together. We did a good job of rebounding, we just couldn't put a few baskets back to back."
GW, which shot 50 percent for the game (26 of 52), went to its spread offense to try to hold on. Mount St. Mary's, a tough Division II club, had no choice but to foul.
Curtis Jeffries, totaling 17 points, dropped in two from the stripe to put W up, 69-63.
Rossignoli lost a chance to cut the gap, missing the front end of a bonus foul shot situation. But the Colonials kept up the suspense by losing the ball again. Rossignoli missed from the corner but followed up his shot to pull Mount St. Mary's to 69-65 with 58 seconds to play.
Dempsey stole the ball from Magid, then was foulded by the Colonial guard. But Dempsey missed his free throw and fouled Jeffries in return.
Jeffries sank the pair with 43 seconds left. Dempsey, a former player at St. John's (D.C.), then was called for a charge. Zagardo and Magid each cashed another pair of free throws to close out the scoring.
Despite the Colonials' near-perfect free-throwing clinic down the stretch, Tallent was furious and called what he termed "an old-fashioned butt-kicking practice today."
"We'll begin at 1," said Tallent. "I don't know when we'll get out of here."
Magid said, "We deserve anything he does to us in practice."