George Washington gave a gutsy performance last night against once-beaten, 18th-ranked West Virginia, but simply ran out of players and time in losing the Eastern Eight game, 74-71, before a sellout crowd of 5,000 at the Smith Center.
The physical Mountaineers (19-1, 9-0 in the conference) ran into a stubborn Colonial team and needed near-perfect free throw shooting in the final minutes to extend their school-record winning streak to 18. GW dropped to 11-10, 5-4.
If luck were money, the Colonials would be broke. For starters, Wilbert Skipper, the Colonials' only outside scoring threat, pulled a calf muscle during the warm-up and played only 17 minutes. He scored five points.
With seven minutes gone, 6-foot-3 forward Oscar Wilmington injured his right knee blocking a shot. He tried to return, but hobbled out, and an examination revealed Wilmington tore ligaments and the cartilage in his right knee. He will under-go surgery Tuesday and is out for the season.
It was a very physical game.By the time it was over, GW had committed a school record 33 of the game's 57 fouls, and four Colonials had fouled out.
Center Mike Brown, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, did not foul out, but he got in early foul trouble and played only three minutes in the first half.
"I couldn't ask any more from them, they played their hearts out," said GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob. "When you think of the people we didn't have... well."
"We just wanted them to know we could be aggressive as they were," Skipper said. "We just got in foul trouble early."
Without starters Steve Perry, Mike Brey and Dave Hobel, and key reserve Paul Gracza -- all of whom fouled out -- and the injured Wilmington and Skipper, it didn't appear GW would have much of a chance of being in the game at the end.
But GW got a superb game from Hobel, who scored 19 points as a starter at Skipper's position; a 22-point second half from Brown, who finished with 24; an unexpected lift from 6-8 reserve Doug Vander Wal (six points and five rebounds), and some good efforts from other players who usually don't have critical roles.
The result was that GW was tied, 60-60, after Brown made two free throws with 6:30 to play.
"Right then, we decided to go to a four corners and spread their defense out," said Mountaineer Coach Gale Catlett. "We've used that spread eight games, and we've won comfortably each time."
"We scouted them earlier in the season but, after they got in foul trouble, they sent in people who knocked the ball in we had never seen before," Catlett said. "But in end, we got every mismatch we wanted out of our delay game and that's what won it for us."
West Virginia got six quick points -- two free throws by Mike King, a basket by 6-11 Tim Kearney and a backdoor layup by Russel Todd, to take a 66-60 lead with 3:15 to play.
"That changed our strategy," Gimelstob said. "We had to go down and score quickly."
That meant go inside to Brown, who played strongly after watching his teammates hustle and contend for every rebound and loose ball in the first half. Brown had eight baskets and six of seven free throws to keep GW in the game. He scored off an offensive rebound and made a free throw to pull his team to within four, 67-63, with 2:06 left.
West Virginia's depth saved it. With leading scorer Greg Jones limping with a muscle pull in his thigh, Catlett called on Quentin Freeman and Tony Washam (a team-high 18 points) to handle GW's full court pressure.
So the Colonials concentrated on Washam, who made a pair of free throws to put his team ahead, 70-65, with 1:25 left.
The Colonials reduced the deficit to 73-71 when Brown made a power layup with 19 seconds left. But GW had to foul and picked on Jones, who Catlett said was playing at about "40 percent efficiency" and whose left thigh was heavily bandaged.
But the senior guard -- who scored 12 points, including five of six from the foul line in the last two minutes -- made his final point to give West Virginia a 74-71 lead with 14 seconds left.
GW offset West Virginia's 58 percent field goal shooting with a 37-17 rebounding advantage. Outscored by four field goals, the Mountaineers made 28 of 37 free throws. The Colonials made 17 of 23.