Darryl Webster, the forgotten man in the George Washington offense, and Chester Wood, trying to earn a starting berth, made key second-half shots and the Colonials sank 14 of 16 free throws in the final minutes to hold off Navy, 87-79, before 2,150 at the Smith Center.
The Colonials (9-9) led, 55-38, with 13:57 left, but then went into a sleepwalking act that almost cost them the game. Navy closed within three points on two occasions in the final three minutes, but GW used good free throw shooting down the stretch to end a three-game losing streak.
After Navy's Sly Mata made his only basket to pull his team close, 74-71, with 3:03 to play, GW started its run of free throws. Mike O'Reilly made both ends of a one-and-one bonus situation and Wood (14 points) made four free throws to let the Colonials breathe a bit easier, 80-73, with 1:56 to play.
Navy got within four points after Rob Romaine (25 points) scored with a loose ball with 1:34 to play. But GW, which has played very well despite losing its last three games, got free throws from Dave Hobel and a layup from Troy Webster (16) and its 14th victory in the last 15 meetings with Navy was assured.
"We had to foul at the end," said a slightly miffed Navy Coach Paul Evans, who was assessed a technical foul as he marched off with the officials at intermission. "We've had three players foul out all year. Tonight, we have three foul out."
Had not Navy's leading scorer David Brooks been held to nine points, seven under his average, and had not Cliff Maurer (17) fouled out with more than five minutes to play, the visitors might have been closer at the end. Romaine and Vernon Butler (18) did their best to keep their team in the game but the 17-point deficit was too much.
"We didn't play well in the first half at all," said Evans. "We played a little scared."
GW shot 32 percent from the floor in the first half but took advantage of Navy's 14 turnovers to take a 35-28 lead.
The second half was different.
Wood and Mike Brown (18) started getting inside for layups and short back shots and suddenly the Colonials were easily ahead. The lead was still 16 points with just more than seven minutes left before Navy started its rally.
Darryl Webster had another good effort for GW, making three of four field goals and nine of nine free throws for 15 points.
"Too many turnovers and we didn't get back on defense," said Wood. "We should be playing better than this in our 18th game of the year. We made our free throws at the end, though."
GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob wasn't very happy, either. "We were up 15 points throughout the second half," said Gimelstob. "Bad fouls, poor concentration and just a lack of maturity. I don't know what was wrong. Once we were in complete control and then we just lost our concentration."
GW shot only 37 percent from the field (26 of 70) but made 35 of 45 free throws. Brown had 12 rebounds to help his team to a 47-40 advantage. Navy made 28 of 52 field goal tries and 23 of 34 from the line. But the Midshipmen had 21 turnovers, 15 resulting in GW points.