A melee involving the visiting team's coach, many of his players, the referees and numerous spectators broke out at Fort Myer gymnasium last night after American University had edged West Chester State, 68-66, in an East Coast Conference basketball game. Military police with guard dogs were used to quell the disturbance.
A decision on whether to file charges for "destruction of government property" was being made early this morning by Fort Myer Provost Marshall M.L. Pickens. He estimated that $500 damage was done to the visitors' locker room.
West Chester State's Don Hunter got a tip-in that would have tied the score at 68, but officials ruled time had expired, giving AU a 12th straight victory that tied a school record.
Several West Chester State players and Coach Earl Voss went after officials Joe Sylvester and Joe Lalli, pushing and shoving them all the way to the officials' dressing room. One official was knocked to the ground.
The players, most noticeably Kevin Givens, Brad Pensyl and Mike Fusco, shouted curses at the referees and slammed their fists and feet through the green fiberglass railing that leads to the AU dressing room. Two spectators were pushed to the floor. Rams guard Sidney Jones picked up a metal rod and tried to gain access to the officials' dressing room before AU Coach Gary Williams and Eagle guard Gordon Austin blocked the entrance to the AU and the officials' dressing rooms.
"It was hysterical," said AU player David Ridley. "I couldn't believe it."
At that point, Fort Myer military police entered the gymnasium and told the crowd of 1,020 to immediately take its seats.
Voss said, "We were cheated, and you can print that."
"I can only say that West Chester State must have disagreed with the call at the end," said Sylvester, who made the call. "It's ECAC policy not to discuss anything else. The only thing I can say is that the ball had to leave the player's hand before the clock ran out."
American (17-5, 8-1 in the ECC) had played lethargically much of the game, but took a 68-66 lead on a 16-foot jumper by Austin (18 points) with two seconds left. The Rams (9-13, 4-8) called two timeouts, then got the ball to Fusco, a 6-foot-9 center, who shot and missed. Hunter put the ball back up and into the basket, but too late, according to the officials.
Sylvester ran about 30 yards to the scorers' table before signaling that the basket did not count. The arguments immediately started at center court.
"It was close," Austin said of the final shot. "But the buzzer here is not simultaneous with the official clock."
"The two seconds had definitely elapsed, in my mind," said Williams. "As far as that last thing, they went after the official, it's as simple as that. The students did a good job in keeping out of the thing and protecting the officials."
Last year, in a game at West Chester, Pa., AU center Juan Jones went for a loose ball near the Rams' bench and brushed Voss. The coach got up and pushed Jones, which angered Williams.
This game got out of control early. Williams, who argued with the officials all night, was assessed a technical foul near the end of the first half, which helped the Rams score seven straight points and take a brief, 34-32 lead. Both coaches seemed surprised that only 34 fouls were called.
"This was a more intense game than our usual ECC contests," said guard Mark Nickens, who led the Eagles with 22 points. "This one had a distinct flavor from the start."
The West Chester State locker room was in shambles afterward. Several pieces of furniture were destroyed, a thermostat was pulled from the wall, the water fountain was pulled off its foundation and a wooden partition was destroyed.
AU Athletic Director Bob Frailey said, "It's an unfortunate situation that developed. Emotions got away from some people. It's the first time this has happened (at Fort Myer) in 15 years. It's one thing when a player loses his cool, but another when a coach does it."