George Washington came up with a new weapon last night.
With Mike Brown hobbling, the Colonials went to their long-range game, throwing in seven three-point goals, five by Joe Wassel, and held on to dump West Virginia, 71-67, in the Atlantic 10 Conference opener for both teams at the Smith Center.
The 6-foot-10 Brown played 39 minutes on a severely sprained toe and although the senior center wasn't up to snuff, he contributed in several ways. He made only two of six field goal tries but had 11 free throws to finish with 15 points. He also had 13 rebounds for the Colonials (6-3) and prevented the Mountaineers (4-5) from doing serious damage inside.
"The toe hurts and I couldn't push off on it or jump," Brown said. "But this is conference time and I wanted to play."
Brown's biggest contribution was as a threat to score. The Mountaineers mostly played a tight sagging zone, virtually daring the GW guards to shoot from outside. Considering the Colonials' 11 for 41 effort in a recent three-point victory over Towson State, the strategy wasn't bad.
"I'm glad they did it," Brown said. "That left our guards open. Sagging on me that way is a sign of respect."
Wassel, who made five of 10 tries from the three-point line and finished with 18 points, and Mike O'Reilly, with two three-pointers and 14 points, showed no respect as they shot over the visitors' zone at will.
But their shooting almost went for naught as the hustling Mountaineers, sparked by back-to-back jumpers by Dale Blaney, cut an 11-point second-half lead to two, 66-64, with 36 seconds to play.
Steve Frick, who has started the last two games and last night held Mountaineers' leading scorer Lester Rowe to nine points (seven below his average), made the first of two free throws to give GW a 67-64 lead with 30 seconds to play. Frick missed the second but Brown outmuscled three Mountaineers for the rebound and was fouled. He made both shots and GW was up by five with 24 seconds left.
West Virginia point guard J.J. Crawl, averaging only 4.4 points per game before burning GW for a career-high 20, missed a three-point try and GW's Troy Webster came up with the loose ball. But Webster, who has been struggling of late, missed the front end of the one-and-one foul situation.
Mountaineer guard Vernon Odom, who made three of four three-pointers, drilled one in from 25 feet to cut the deficit to two points, 69-67, with 11 seconds left.
West Virginia tried but couldn't foul anyone before O'Reilly got behind the defense for a long pass and layup.
Wassel and O'Reilly's shooting from deep enabled GW to build an 11-point first-half lead.
But the visitors also did a little fancy shooting. Crawl had eight points and forward Renardo Brown made all five of his field goal attempts and a free throw for 11 points as the Mountaineers closed to 34-31 at intermission.
"Crawl and Odom are as quick as any pair of guards around," said GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob. "West Virginia has great talent. You can't drop off the guards or the forwards will hurt you. And you can't concentrate on the forwards or the guards will hurt you."
With Rowe in deep foul trouble and center Darrell Pinckney (three shots and six points) not challenging Brown, the Mountaineers had to rely on their outside shooting. It wasn't quite enough.
Each time West Virginia made a serious threat to pull even, Wassel, O'Reilly and Chester Wood (11 points) would come up with a big basket. Wood had two baskets, Brown a basket and two free throws, Wassel a 25-footer and O'Reilly a steal and layup during a five minute span as the Colonials pulled to a 55-44 lead with 9:31 to play.
At that point, West Virginia Coach Gale Catlett rushed back in Rowe, Blaney and Odom. The Mountaineers tightened up defensively and got some clutch shooting from Odom and free throws from Rowe to close to 66-60. Blaney baskets sandwiched around a missed GW free throws made it a two-point game and set up the final seconds.