Michigan State's aggressive rebounding and near-perfect free throw shooting down the stretch overshadowed a gutsy performance by George Washington as the Spartans pulled away to a 68-54 victory before 3,887 last night in Smith Center.
The Spartans (7-0) gave a memorable demonstration in physical basketball, getting 34 rebounds to the Colonials' 22. Michigan State converted five rebounds into baskets in the first half alone and limited GW to two baskets off second shots for the game.
"We didn't box out and their offensive rebounding, especially in the first half, put us in a tremendous hole," said GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob.
Despite their rebounding deficiencies, the Colonials (4-2) hung tough for nearly 30 minutes, thanks to Mike Brown's 24 points and seven rebounds and Troy Webster's 10 points.
Trailing by three at the half, the Colonials closed to 39-38 after Webster's 22-footer at the 14-minute mark.
However, Michigan State reserve guard Darryl Johnson, who Coach Jud Heathcote said provided the big spark in the second half, scored two of his 13 points. Then guard Sam Vincent, who made nine of 10 field goal attempts and all eight free throws for 26 points, put in a jump shot and Michigan State held a 43-38 lead.
But GW came back again. The Colonials' final opportunity to tie the score came at 9:10 when Brian Butler, the front man on a four-on-one break, missed a layup. The Colonials couldn't tip in the ball and the Spartans came away with the rebound. That set up a breakaway at the other end, Vincent racing in for the basket and a 47-43 lead.
"We had the chance to tie the game and missed that basket," Gimelstob said. "So instead of being tied, we're now down four."
GW stumbled with a couple of misses and mental mistakes in the next three minutes. Michigan State eased out to a six-point edge, but point guard Scott Skiles and forward Larry Polec were in deep foul trouble. Polec was called for two fouls within a 15-second span and was finished for the night with 5 1/2 minutes to play. Skiles played with four fouls.
But GW missed front ends of two one-and-ones, committed a lane violation, and lost the ball twice on turnovers.
After the lane violation, the Spartans, leading, 53-47, with 5:31 to play, decided it was time to pull out the delay game.
"You can't be behind them in the final minutes because Skiles and Vincent will control the game," Gimelstob said.
"Our guards are our best free-throw shooters," Heathcote said, "so they always have the ball when we go to the delay game. "They had to foul to get the ball and we made our free throws."
In the final 5:10, the Spartans, shooting 71 percent from the line, made 15 of 18 shots to break open what had been a close game. Vincent and Skiles (eight points, but held to one for 10 from the floor by Mike O'Reilly) each made six free throws.
"We just made several stupid mistakes and didn't make our free throws," said O'Reilly, who had eight points. "They stepped up there and hit theirs. I took pride in holding my man to one field goal but, unfortunately, Vincent got good penetration and made some good shots."
Vincent had 14 points on a variety of hanging layups and soft jumpers around the key as the Spartans exchanged baskets with the Colonials. Brown was the only Colonial able to go anything inside against a front line of 6 feet 9, 6-9 and 6-8. He got shots inside the sagging zone and scored 12 points as his team trailed by only 33-30 at the half.
But the Spartans, who had a 16-5 advantage in rebounds in the first 20 minutes, switched to a man to man in the second half and did a much better job against Brown. Richard Mudd, from McKinley Tech in the District, and Ken Johnson took turns bumping Brown until the Spartans made their final surge.