The George Washington basketball team came to Fitzgerald Field House with high expectations to beat a crippled, sickly Pitt team tonight. After an 82-81 blowout by the Eastern Eight conference leader, the Colonials left with their entire game in disarray, their confidense shattered and their coach calling the quitters.
Sammie Ellis, Pitt's leading scorer, missed the game with a sprained ankle. Sam Clancy, the Panthers' best players, was so ill before the game he did not warm up.
But it was George Washington, now 5-3 and 0-2 in the Eastern Eight, that caved in to Pitt's zone press and 80 percent second-half shooting, as the Panthers put GW away with a 27-5 blast in a 7 1/2 minute span early in the second half for a 66-42 lead.
GW Coach Bob Tallent, who usually flogs his team verbally and publicly when it plays poorly, had this to say when he was asked whether the full-court pressure beat his team.
"I don't think you can narrow it down to one thing. They whipped as in every facet of the game . . . and then we just quit playing when we got behind. We just gave it up."
Pitt Coach Tim Grgurich, whose team is now 9-2 and 3-0 in the league, was nicer about an opponent that has played nip-and-tuck games here in the past.
"We came out, really got intense the second half and we shot it as well as we have all year," he said. "The press? This is the first time, I saw them. But our other coaches saw them and they recommended, well, we do it anyway."
It is too early to make season-long assessments on one game, especially since GW has been one of the nation's most inactive teams they first six weeks of the season. But, if was evident tonight that the Colonials have to correct flaws against the press, against normal defenses and on offense -- or this will be a long season.
The press broke the game open, because GW attacked it too tentatively.
Curt Jeffries would pass to a wing, only to get the ball back.
"It's a lot on the guards to get it up court. It's (supposed to be) a team effort," Jeffries said. Nobody wanted it. We're not going to beat them when we walk it up. We're a better fast-breaking team. If we'd passed like we did in practice Tuesday, we would have gotten layups."
Asked about Jeffries' contention, Tallent said, "He was as much at fault as anybody."
GW made nine turnovers in the 19 possessions that resulted in the 27-5 surge. Carlton Neverson, who scored 14 points, hit four straight baskets early in the surge and Len McMillian, who started for Ellis and shared game-high honors (16 points) with teammate Dwayne Wallace, also was hot.
Mike Zagardo, GW's 6-foot-10 senior center who averaged almost 16 points per game the last two seasons and has fully recovered from a preseason ankle injury, never got the change to have a hot hand.
This has been a season-long problem. Zagardo got his second shot in the game five minutes into the second half. Those were his only two shots of the game -- he finished with no field goals and four points. In eight games, he has taken only 51 shots.
"We've got to get the ball inside more," said guard Brian Magid, who continued a slump that now has reached three games. "We've just got to get the ball into our leading scorer."
GW threw the ball away a couple times trying to force it into Zagardo early, then forgot about him.
"It's a darn shame a kid like him has to go out there and play so hard and not get the ball," Tallent said.
GW, which ran a nice guard-oriented offense in the past, yet fed Zagardo enough for him to get his high average and All-Conference honors, shot only 42 percent tonight.
Meanwhile, defensively, Pitt's hot second half shooting and 69.8 percent accuracy for the full 40 minutes, was aided and abetted by a well-run offense that freed players continually for layups and open jumpers.