George Washington's Craig Helms got two chances, one offensive and one defensive, tonight to redeem himself for a crucial mistake. He came through, and GW with him.
Helms, a 6-foot-6 freshman, sank a short base-line jump shot with eight seconds left, then held his breath as Duquesne's Joey Myers leaned into him and missed a layup at :001. That left GW a 71-70 winner in an Atlantic 10 conference tournament first-round game before 1,650 shocked fans at the Civic Arena.
The Colonials leveled their record at 14-14 and, more important, achieved their first victory in postseason play in seven seasons.
GW moves into the quarterfinals to meet West Division top seed St. Bonventure Wednesday night here at 9 p.m.; Penn State plays West Virginia in the other game at 7. The winners meet in a semifinal Friday at the Spectrum in Philadelphia; that survivor will play the East Division winner Saturday at 1 for the league tournament title and automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
GW got fine performances from Mike Brown, who had a career-high 32 points and 13 rebounds; Troy Webster, 21 points, playing with a sore back, and Mike O'Reilly, 10 points and seven assists. But it was Helms who kept the Colonials' roller-coaster season alive.
He scored only four points, but his clutch cotton-soft shot gave the Colonials the final lead, 71-70, in the seesaw game that had 11 lead changes in the final six minutes.
"I had thrown away a pass (that led to two free throws by Andy Sisinni to put Duquesne up, 68-67) and I wanted a chance to redeem myself," said Helms. "The play was designed for anyone with an open shot. Darryl (Webster) didn't have a shot and he got me the ball."
Helms' heroics didn't end there. Duquesne, which lost at GW, 68-62, Saturday night, called two timeouts before going for the winning basket. Terry Teachout, whose fine outside shooting (seven of nine, two three-pointers) kept the Dukes in the game, was supposed to take the jumper or get the ball inside to the 6-foot-8 Myers.
Teachout made a fine pass over Brown's head to Myers, who was all alone as he turned toward the basket. But Myers found Helms standing there and, instead of going hard to the basket, tried to lean into his defender. "I didn't know what to do. So, I just stood there with my hands up," Helms said. "He was trying to draw a foul. If there was one, he committed it by charging."
Helms didn't move and Myers' shot caromed off the bottom of the rim right into the hands of the Colonials' forward as the buzzer sounded.
The Duquesne bench, thinking a foul should have been called, erupted. Coach Jim Satalin raced onto the court to express his displeasure to the officials amid a GW celebration.
"I was upset at the call (noncall) at the end," said Satalin. "It was the play we called. We wanted Teachout to shoot from outside or go inside to Myers. We couldn't have gotten a better shot."
Despite good defense by GW, Duquesne got most of the shots it wanted all night. The Dukes (12-16) made 22 of 40 from the floor and five starters finished in double figures.
Neither team could put together a spurt in the first half. Troy Webster (15) and Brown (14) accounted for 29 of their team's 39 points while the Dukes got points from everyone to take a one-point edge at the half. The Dukes made a quick start after intermission, building a six-point lead with 10 minutes to play.
And GW was in deep foul trouble. Troy Webster, who committed three fouls in three minutes, and Chester Wood (zero points) eventually fouled out in the final minutes.
Sisinni made two free throws after being fouled by Webster to put the Dukes up, 68-67. Brown, who couldn't get the ball inside, popped out to the foul line and hit a turnaround shot for the Colonials with 44 seconds to play.
Sisinni was fouled again and made his 23rd and 24th consecutive free throws and Duquesne led, 70-69, with 22 seconds to play.
Then it was Helms' time.