Call it fate, the law of averages or poetic justice. By any name, George Washington University's basketball team had this one coming.
The Colonials, who had suffered many more lows than highs in one of their most dismal campaigns, finished the regular season on an extremely high note last night by edging West Virginia, 85-82 in overtime, in an Eastern Eight game before 4,700 fans at Smith Center.
The Colonials are 8-18, 4-9 in the conference. West Virginia, which would have won the league with a victory, is 19-7 and 9-4.
The Colonials had strong incentive to lose. Had they done so, they would have opened the Eastern Eight tournament at home Tuesday night against Rhode Island. Instead, they travel to Pittsburgh to play Duquesne.
West Virginia finished third in the conference. The Mountaineers will host either Rutgers or St. Bonaventure in the opening round.
"This goes a long way towards making up for the season," said a smiling GW Coach Bob Tallent. "It's a real pleasure to win one like this after losing so many close ones. There's nobody i'd rather beat than West Virginia -- well, maybe Georgetown."
"We certainly weren't playing to lose," said guard Randy Davis, whose drive and two free throws in the final 26 seconds provided the winning points. "Sure, it would have been nice to play at home. But this shows us that we can beat an excellent team and gives us momentum for the tournament."
Spurred by its largest home crowd of the season, GW cut the lead to 57-53 with 9:18 remaining. Then Davis and Wilbert Skipper took over. The two combined for eight consecutive points, and with 6:41 remaining GW led, 61-57.
The teams played essentially even for almost four minutes.
"At that point, I thought we were going to win," said Tallent, referring to his club's seemingly safe 68-63 advantage. But the remaining 2:46 was enough time for the Mountaineers to get even.
Guard Greg Jones, their leading scorer, sank two free throws with a minute remaining to tie the score at 71.
GW controlled the ball, and with 10 seconds left Tallent instructed his team to go for the last shot. Misunderstanding his coach's signal, Skipper threw up an off-balance brick with eight seconds left. "I went from the ceiling to the floor on that one," Tallent confessed. West Virginia grabbed the rebound but could do nothing in the remaining three seconds.
GW took control in overtime. Paul Gracza's two free throws put the Colonials ahead, 76-75, and they never trailed again.