As their namesakes did 200 years ago, the Minutemen came to the rescue.

This time they, not the British, were wearing red. History repeated itself, thought, with the Colonials once again the beneficiaries as George Washington routed the University of Massachusetts, 87-61, last night in an Eastern Eight game before 1,800 at Smith Center.

If the current Minutemen had been present two centuries ago, the United States would still be part of the British Empire. It was Massachusetts' 12th straight loss, 21st in 24 games, and 12th in 12 league games. GW, which beat UMass six games ago, won its seventh against 17 defeats and boosted its conference record to 3-9.

But GW could not save its hopes of a home game in the league tournament, albeit it would have been against top dog Rhode Island. West Virginia, by losing at Pittsburgh last night, "won" a probable date with the Colonials in Morgantown in the first round.

GW settled for a taste of satisfaction.

"If we'd won 16 or 17 games, beating a team like this might not mean much," GW Coach Bob Tallent said. "But when you are in a situation like we are, you need every bit of confidence you can get. I think this is definitely going to help us."

"Anything positive is good for us," agreed senior guard Curtis Jeffries, who sank seven of 10 shots from the floor and five of five free throws for a team-leading 19 points. "We're feeling pretty good now and we've got tokeep that attitude going. This team wasn't too good, but a win is a win. We'll take it any way we can get it."

For most of the first half, it appeared GW would get nothing but trouble. After several lead changes and a series of kicks, slaps and fumbles, the Colonials awoke and turned a 24-23 deficit into a 37-28 advantage at halftime.

"We didn't play hard. We didn't get after them like we should have," said forward Oscar Wilmington. Invisible most of the half, he scored eight of his 17 points in its last 3:37. Four came on a basic dunk and a not-so-basic, two-hand rim-shaking reverse slam. "We were lackadaisical and not moving without the ball," he allowed.

Not in the ensuing 20 minutes. The visitors, whose freshman center Edwin Green led all scorers with 20 points and rebounders with 13, crept within five points early and stayed in striking distance for the first nine minutes.

Then came the deluge. Green, hampered by the Colonials' zone and his teammates' inept ball-handling, disappeared from the offense and in just over five minutes, a 53-46 GW lead became 65-48.