George Washington's game plan last night consisted of three things--control the tempo, get the ball inside to Mike Brown and play good defense against American University's leading scorers, Mark Nickens and Ed Sloane. The Colonials succeeded in doing all three, but still lost to the Eagles, 55-47, before 2,150 at Georgetown's McDonough Arena.
"A loss like this doesn't bother me," said GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob. "I thought we played very well. We had a couple of chances to win but . . . "
The Colonials (9-7) got a good effort from freshman center Mike Brown (21 points) and actually slipped ahead, 42-41, after a Mike Brey 20-footer with 7:38 left in the game.
Then American (11-5), unable to run because of the slow GW tempo, forced four straight GW turnovers and two missed shots to gain control of the game. In among the Colonials' miscues, Juan Jones (10 points, seven rebounds) scored over Brown, Fernando Aunon hit a shot on the base line and Gordon Austin made two free throws and drove the lane for a basket and the Eagles rushed in front, 49-42.
"We needed those turnovers," said Austin, who came up with two steals. "We wanted to speed up the tempo, but couldn't. Once it turned into a close game, both of us became patient."
GW, which shot 55 percent from the field, crept to within four points, 49-45, after a Brown free throw and a Wilbert Skipper 18-footer with 3:21 remaining.
The Eagles then went to a spread offense. Austin was fouled and made two free throws at 2:10 for a six-point lead. Ron White countered for GW with 1:56 to play.
This time AU played keep away until Sloane, who led his team with 14 points, broke down the lane, took a perfect bounce pass from Nickens and dropped in a layup as the Eagles went up six points again, 53-47, with 44 seconds to play.
"He (Sloane) might not score a basket and have 10 turnovers in the first 35 minutes, but in the last five minutes, I want him in the game," said AU Coach Gary Williams. "Our pressure defense forced those turnovers at the end. I think we wore them down a little."
GW avoided getting into a run-and-shoot contest with the quicker Eagles by running a delay offense. The Colonials went to Brown consistently and the 6-foot-9 center was able to score inside. The Colonials' other legitimate scoring threat, Skipper, has an injured finger on his shooting hand and was limited in what he could do. He did come in with 10 minutes gone to score eight points.
GW also did a creditable job on Sloane and Nickens, holding the high-scoring duo to 14 and nine points, respectively. Nickens, the team leader with a 21.3 average, had scored double figures in 35 straight games before last night.
This usually is a high-scoring game but both teams got off to slow starts and three minutes elapsed before either team scored. Nickens got seven of his points in the first half as the Eagles eased out to a 29-24 lead at halftime.
Jones opened the second half with two quick baskets and Austin scored on a driving layup to give the Eagles their largest lead, 37-28. But the Colonials stuck with their game plan and slowly eased their way back. Brown and Skipper combined for nine of their team's next 14 points as GW forged ahead for the last time, 42-41.