This is the season Wilbert Skipper has been working toward ever since he left Anacostia High School, and he wasn't about to let it end prematurely.
"I didn't want this to be my last home game," he said last night after scoring a season-high 27 points to pace George Washington to a 63-62 victory over Rutgers before 3,100 at Smith Center.
By avenging a 51-45 loss at Rutgers Feb. 13, the Colonials almost assured themselves of a home game in the opening round of the Eastern Eight tournament, which starts Tuesday.
The Colonials will take a 7-6 record into their regular-season finale Saturday at Pittsburgh and even a loss would leave them tied with St. Bonaventure for fourth place. If the teams are tied, a committee will determine the fourth-place finisher on the basis of strength of schedule, and after playing top-ranked Virginia, plus Georgetown and Virginia Tech, the Colonials own a clear-cut advantage.
"Getting the home-court advantage is a tremendous achievement for these kids," said Gerry Gimelstob, completing his first season as GW's coach. "Once we get into the tournament, we have a chance to do whatever is possible in college basketball."
The game was not quite as close as the score indicated. The Colonials broke a tie at 53 with six straight points, four by Skipper. After Rutgers closed to three points with 3:10 left, GW ran 2:23 off the clock before Dave Hobel made both one-and-one free throws to boost the lead to 61-56 with 47 seconds to go.
"Hobel is very good at controlling the ball," Gimelstob said of his sophomore playmaker from Barton, Md. "I thought we played with a lot of poise at the end."
Rutgers freshman Chris Remley made a jumper and, after a walking violation, center Roy Hinson jammed in an offensive rebound to make the score 61-60 with 16 seconds remaining.
But Mike Brey, a senior transfer who played at De Matha, was intentionally fouled and sank both free throws to turn Remely's final jumper into window dressing.
"Skipper killed us," said Rutgers Coach Tom Young. "He's a good shooter, but he's not suppose to make 12 of 15. That was the difference."
Skipper said he has been struggling with his shooting recently, that his follow through had been off, but once he made his first few against Rutgers his confidence returned.
"I was getting open 15-footers against their zone," he said. "Our guards were doing a good job of getting me the ball when I was open. Then all I had to do was step up and shoot.
"That's my shot and the coaches want me to take it, and once it started going in I kept shooting. I love to see those zones."
Young said Rutgers didn't defend Skipper differently than it did two weeks ago, but that the 6-3 senior just didn't miss this time.
Skipper went to Southeast Community College in Fairbury, Neb., for two years after leaving Anacostia, and came to GW last season. He was primarily a sixth man as a junior, but has blossomed into the team's most dependable scorer. This season he has made 53 percent of his shots while averaging 14 points a game.
Mike Brown, the muscular freshman center, was another factor in GW raising its season's record to 13-12. When Rutgers briefly got out of its zone defense late in the first half, the 6-9, 225-pounder scored on three straight possessions to break a 28-28 tie and give the Colonials a four-point edge. He also made the basket that tied the game at 50 and got a three-point play that put his team in front, 53-50.