History repeated itself at George Washington University last night. Rory Sparrow, a guard who chose Villanova over GW, beat the Colonials again with a last-second shot. Only this time the play had a diabolical twist for GW.
Sparrow turned a busted play into a winning 15-foot jumper with two seconds remaining, giving his Wildcats a 74-72 Eastern Eight victory and almost clinching a homecourt advantage for Villanova in the first round of the league's tournament.
Two years ago at the Smith Center, Sparrow made a jump shot with six seconds left to give the Wildcats a 49-58 victory. Last night he helped end GW's five-game winning streak because a Mike Zagardo deflection ended up in his hands with four seconds to play.
This was GW's eighth straight loss without a victory against the Wildcats in the four years of the Eastern Eight. And if was surely the hardest to take because GW scored only one point in its final eight possessions after leading by five points with less than seven minutes remaining.
With a 71-68 lead, GW turned to the four-corners offense that had worked so well in beating Rutgers Saturday night. Last night it was instant disaster, three consecutive turnovers allowing Villanova to take a 72-71 lead with 4:15 to play.
The only point the rest of the way was a free throw by Zagardo with 34 seconds left. But the 6-foot-10 center, who three minutes earlier missed a one-and-one, failed to connect on the second.
It was not a good night for clutch foul shooting. Villanova's Alex Bradley and Tom Bethea each missed bonus opportunities in the final two minutes when the Wildcats could have taken a three-point lead. So, faced with the tie, Villanova called its final timeout with 27 seconds to play.
GW let the Wildcats run the clock down to 12 seconds when Sparrow initiated the play Wildcat Coach Rollie Massimino wanted -- to get the ball inside to Alex Bradley or let Sparrow take an outside jumper.
"It was a little discombobulated," was the way Massimino put at afterward.
Sparrow had passed to center Marty Caron near the foul line. Suddenly, Caron saw forward Aaron Howard flashing across the lane.
"I knew we didn't have much time," Caron said. "I saw Arron start to flash and tried to get it into him."
But Zagardo, playing the middle of a GW zone, anticipated the pass and got a hand on it, but could not control it. The ball bounced out near the right side of the foul line where Sparrow beat Colonial Brian Magid to the ball with four seconds left.
Magrid's hand was in Sparrow's face as he shot. Sparrow watched the ball go through the basket as he fell to the floor.
The clock ran down to 0:00 as GW tried to call a timeout. After a discussion, two seconds were put back. Jeffries managed to get a good shot from just beyond midcourt at the buzzer. It was on line, but at least three or four feet short.
Afterward, Sparrow said he seemed to play harder against GW because the Colonials recruited him.It also was the fifth game he was won in his career with a final shot.
"This one was different from the last time here," Sparrow said. "Two years ago, I had the ball. I was in control of the ball. This one came to me -- more or less."
Villanova is now 16-5 and 5-2 in the conference, tied with Rutgers for first place. GW is 13-6, 4-5 in league play.
GW played excellent basketball the first half, taking a 43-35 lead at intermission on smart execution and balanced scoring.
But, in the second half, Villanova's defense improved, sagging and overplaying. As a result, GW became impatient and committed 11 of the 16 turnovers. Finally, with the 71-68 lead, Tallent called for the spread offense.
"We did it because Tom Glenn (19 points, 13 rebounds) was in foul trouble and we couldn't get anything off our regular offense. We wanted to spread it and let Curtis (Jeffries) take his man in the middle."
And that is exactly what Jeffries the catalyst of GW's recent successes, did. Only he threw the ball away twice with golden opportunities to score. Magid also threw the ball away once.
"I made a couple of mistakes I just shouldn't have made. I'll take the blame," said Jeffries. "I was backslapped on the first one. But they (the officials weren't calling anything."
And Sparrow came through again.
"I'm glad he's a senior. I'll tell you that," Tallent said. "I won't miss him a bit."