Roland Houston, the University of Rhode Island's ailing center, rallied his team from a 17-point deficit before teammate Jimmy Wright's three-point play with 10 seconds remaining lifted the Rams to a 72-70 victory over George Washington in an Eastern Eight game last night at the Smith Center.
Training throughout the contest, Rhode Island, in its first year in the league, took its first lead on a Kevin Whiting jumper with 50 seconds left. After a GW timeout, the Colonials' Curtis Jeffries countered with a long jump shot to regain the lead for the home team at 70-69.
On the Rams' next possession, Houston spotted the cutting Wright, who converted a layup and was fouled by Steve Perry. The converted free throw gave him 24 points. URI's Marc Upshaw ensured the victory by stealing the ball from Jeffries.
Rhode Island, the conference leader with a 10-2 mark, is 18-4 overall and ranked second in the east. George Washington fell to 2-7 in the Eastern Eight and 5-14 overall.
Houston sat out the first half because of tendinitis in his left knee and failed to score, but did have two rebounds and four assists. "He gave us an emotional lift," said Ram Coach Claude English. "We just weren't in the game initially. GW really outplayed us."
The Colonials' first half was one of their most productive of the season. Outrebounding the much bigger Rams, GW ran off a streak of 11 unanswered points midway through the half and coasted to a 45-28 lead behind the scoring of Oscar Wilmington, Randy Davis and Paul Gracza. Rhode Island also committed 11 turnovers during the half.
The second half opened much the same as the Colonials led, 67-55, with 5:53 left. Wright then led an eight-point streak and, at 1:35, converted a layup to make the score 68-67 before Whiting hit his jumper.
GW Coach Bob Tallent was happy with his team's performance despite the loss.
"I am really proud of 'em. It's only an 18-4 team we almost beat. This should be a real boost to our confidence," he said about yet another game which deprived him of his 100th career victory. "With Houston out we are just about the same size, and in the first half we just pounded the boards and were agressive. But when Houston comes on and Wright moves to forward, it's tough for us to match up."
Wright, who scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half, rebounded strongly after intermission, and Upshaw, who scored all of his 11 points in the second half, had a 10-rebound half. Guard Horace Owens managed 18 points.
"It was two different games," said English. "It took Houston's presence to get the machine working. We knew we had to dig down deep and we did." Gracza finished with 16 points to lead GW. He had nine rebounds, seven of which came in the first half. Davis scored 15 and Wilmington 13.