George Washington discovered tonight just how badly it needs all-America center Mike Brown.
While the 6-foot-10 senior and the hub of the Colonials sat out the first 28 minutes trying to rest a sprained toe, his teammates struggled. When Brown entered the game, his presence, combined with an outstanding performance by Chester Wood, inspired a second-half rally by the Colonials, who beat Towson State, 53-50, at Towson Center.
GW (5-3), which played well in losing to national powers Michigan State and Kansas recently, was in danger of being beaten tonight before Coach Gerry Gimelstob resorted to using Brown.
GW trailed, 36-33, with 12:30 to play when Brown came in. His teammates immediately tried to go inside to him, but the Tigers' zone kept Brown from the ball. Brown could barely run or jump but muscled his way for several rebounds and made two free throws and a follow shot for four points. But his only field goal was crucial because it tied the score at 46 with 4:22 left to play.
"I couldn't do too much out there because I couldn't run," said Brown, who injured his big toe on his left foot during practice Thursday morning. "I was just running when it sort of snapped. I wanted to help. I guess I was a little inspiration."
With Brown on the floor, the Colonials regained their confidence and shut down the Tigers in the final few minutes.
Wood, who scored a career-high 25 points and was the only Colonial to play well, made four straight free throws to give his team a 50-46 advantage with 2:36 to play.
Towson State couldn't get inside with Brown standing guard and missed four outside shots. Troy Webster and Joe Wassel contributed free throws around baskets by Tigers Rica Page and Butch Evans in the final seconds to keep GW ahead.
In addition to holding out Brown, Gimelstob, looking for new combinations, started a revamped lineup of Steve Frick, Wood, Wassel, Craig Helms and Mike O'Reilly. That unit had all kinds of early problems; GW didn't get its first point until nearly 2 1/2 minutes had elapsed and its first field goal until the 13-minute mark.
"I was displeased with a lot of things tonight but, overall, the kids showed a lot of determination," said Gimesltob, looking very exhausted. "We've been off 10 days and didn't have Brown for the most part. He was hurt and we talked about him playing. You don't want to use him too early and you don't want to use him too late."
The Colonials shot only 22 percent in the first half (four of 18) and would have been hopelessly out of this one if the Tigers (2-5) had been able to take advantage of their countless chances. They missed numerous layups and inside shots and couldn't convert any key baskets down the stretch.
"When you shoot 22 percent in the first half and still win, I think that's pretty good," said Gimelstob, whose team trailed, 26-21, at intermission.
With the Colonials looking lost, Towson State managed its largest lead, 18-11, following a layup by Evans with five minutes to play in the first half.
Wood and freshman Max Blank, who came in to help on the boards, made some free throws near the end of the half to keep GW close.
GW finally tied the score at 28 on a free throw by Helms at the 18:07 mark of the second half. The game was tied on two other occasions before the Tigers crept ahead, 36-33.
Timeout, GW. Enter Brown. Exit Towson State.