George Washington put its game together midway through the first half, went on a scoring spurt and took a lead it never relinquished in defeating surprisingly tough Towson State, 98-85, before 450 fans last night at Smith Center.

The Colonials, who looked sluggish from the start, had to work throughout and needed 16 second-half points by senior center Mike Zagardo to shake off the Tigers. Zagardo finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

George Washington, rebounding from two losses at home last week, may have underestimated the young Tiger team. Towson State includes six freshman and only one senior and is playing NCAA Division I basketball for the first time.

"We came off two hard losses, and the effort wasn't there," said Colonial Coach Bob Talient. "I was hungry after those two setbacks, but it's tough to come back after you lose.

"It takes away from the team mentally. The woke up sore as hell Sunday and wondered if the effort was worth it.

"I thought we played well offensively, but defensively we really didn't get after it," said Talient, whose team won its 50th game since Smith Center opened five years ago.

The Colonials, 14-7, shot 56.7 percent from the floor and outrebounded the smaller Tigers, 43-27.

George Washington woke up from the doldrums after Michael Lyles, who led the Tigers with 25 points, swished a 20-foot jump shot to put his team ahead, 16-13, with 10:48 left in the first half.

With high scorer Brian Magid riding the bench after committing two turnovers and taking a couple of unwise shots in the early going, the Colonials hit eight shots in a row during the next four minutes. Magid's relacement sophomore Jimmy Stepp, ended the run with a jumper as GW moved up by seven.

George Washington finished the half converting 14 of its last 23 shots to take a 46-35 lead. Tom Glenn had 13 points and five rebounds to pace the Colonials, but 10 points by the Tigers' top scorer for the season, Michael Sharpe, (19 points) and nine by Lyles kept Towson State within range.

Nine minutes into the second half Zagardo scored on a layup to give the Colonials a 71-58 lead. Zagardo scored George Washington's next 11 points as well. He got his final basket of the game on another layup with 2:30 to play to put the Colonials up for good, 87-75.

"Mike has played great the last 10 games," said Tallent. "I talked to our players at halftime and said that Zagardo has been hitting 72 percent of his shots during that stretch. Why not go to him?"

Lyles accounted for 16 points after intermission on long jumpers for the Tigers, but Towson State never got closer than five in dropping to 8-14.