George Washington, playing perhaps its finest half of basketball this season, scared Rutgers last night before the visitors regrouped in the final minutes and escaped with a 76-71 Eastern Eight Conference victory at Smith Center.

The Colonials (2-6 in the conference, 5-14 overall), who could do little against the taller, quicker Scarlet Knights in the first half, played very well after intermission, making 14 of their first 15 shots and turning an 11-point halftime deficit into a five-point lead with 10 minutes to go.

The Colonials shot 71 percent, 20 of 28, and held a 15-9 rebounding advantage in the second half. Rutgers had whipped George Washington, 81-68, to start the Colonials on a seven-game losing streak they broke only Wednesday night.

Rutgers' halftime advantage disappeared as Colonial guards Curtis jeffries and Randy Davis repeatedly burned their defenders. Jeffries had been slowed by an assortment of injuries and the flu and last week was advised by Coach Bob Tallent to forget basketball for a few days. He missed two games, but was brillian last night.

The 6-foot senior sank eight of his 10 shots in the second half en route to a season-high 21 points, and Davis bombed in five of six tries to fuel his team's comeback.

"I just want to play. I've had a few problems, but there's nothing wrong between the coach and me," Jeffries said. "He just wanted me to get well and be ready down the stretch. I felt good tonight. I was getting the shots and I love the transition-type game. That's when I play my best."

The Colonials made 14 of 15 shots and outscored the shocked Scarlet Knights, 28-12, to charge ahead, 59-54, with 10:16 remaining. Two baskets by Jeffries, sandwiched around a steal and a two-handed dunk by Steve Perry, gave George Washington its five-point cushion and forced Rutgers Coach Tom Young to hurriedly call a timeout.

"They were scared, we had them going," said Oscar Wilmington, who, along with Curtis Smith and Perry, refused to be intimidated and battled the Knights for every rebound in the second half. "We put pressure on them and forced some turnovers. And then we got hot."

The Scarlet Knights (12-10, 5-4 in the league) came back onto the court more poised following the timeout. They remembered that 6-foot-9 Roy Hinson was on their side and began passing to him in the lane. The sophomore responded with nine straight points and Rutgers pulled even at 63 with 6:16 to play.

"That was the key: we didn't cash it in when GW caught up," Young said. "We had lost so many games on the road this was a good win for us. They were making tougher shots than we were missing."

The teams traded baskets until Kelvin Troy, who led all scorers with 22 points, dropped in two free throws to send Rutgers ahead to stay, 69-67, with 3:58 remaining.

The Colonials could not get the ball inbounds against the Rutgers press and seconds later the muscular Troy got inside for a layup and a four-point lead. The Colonials missed their next shot and Rutgers guard Rich Brunson went the length of the court for a layup and a 73-67 advantage.

Paul Gracza scored consecutive layups to give George Washington hope at 74-71 with 44 seconds left. But Rutgers was not about to fold, and held the ball until the Colonials were forced to foul. Matt Madlinger and Brunson each sank a free throw in the last 30 seconds. CAPTION:

Picture 1, George Washington freshman forward Steve Perry, from Woodbridge, stretches to block the shot of Rutgers' 6-9 center, Roy Hinson.; Picture 2, Kevin Black, a Mackin High graduate, goes up for two points for the Scarlet Knights.Photos by Larry Morris -- The Washington Post