George Washington, looking for an opportunity to rest injured center Mike Brown, finally got it last night. Barely.
After blowing all but two points of a 14-point lead, the Colonials needed eight free throws from Darryl Webster and some tenacious defense in the final 2:07 to hold off Penn State, 69-65, in an Atlantic 10 game at Smith Center.
Because Penn State has the worse record in the conference (losing 17 straight conference games and 17 consecutive road games before last night), GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob decided this would be a good game to give Brown a much-needed rest. The 6-foot-10 senior has been playing on a very sore toe and has struggled.
"It's still very sore and I couldn't have played," Brown said. "I doubt if I'll play Saturday (at St. Joseph's) either."
Starting forward Chester Wood also sat out last night's game, due to a sprained knee.
"Considering we played without two starters, I thought the kids busted their tails and played well," Gimelstob said. "We scratched and clawed our way to this victory."
The Colonials (8-5 overall, 3-2 in the conference) were very physical in the opening minutes, moving out to a 16-2 lead with just over five minutes gone.
But Penn State (4-8, 0-4), aided by GW's shoddy play and missed free throws, cut the deficit to 32-26 at the half and to 59-57 with 4:04 left in the game. Troy Daniels, who ended with eight points, scored six in a row, making the basket that brought his team as close as it would be all night.
GW still was protecting a 61-59 lead when the Nittany Lions suddenly went cold from the floor and began fouling to get possession.
Webster, shooting 69 percent from the line, made two free throws to give GW a 63-59 lead with 2:07 left.
Penn State missed its next three shots and Webster made three of four foul shots to make it 66-57, with 57 seconds to play.
"I needed something like this to get my confidence back," said Webster, whose playing time recently has decreased. "After missing the first one, I felt pretty relaxed on the rest of them."
Carl Chrabascz (17 points, eight rebounds) made a three-point field goal for Penn State with 49 seconds left to cut the lead to 66-62. Webster (10 points) then made three more free throws before Tony Ward made a three-pointer with 11 seconds to play for the final margin.
"We really never got into our offense," said Nittany Lions Coach Bruce Parkhill. "That's been the problem for us all year -- falling behind, then having to struggle to get back. GW was very physical early and took us out of our game plan. But sometimes when you have a lead, you relax and that gives you a chance to get back in the game."
This game began like many of the Nittany Lions' previous defeats. Mike O'Reilly started the game with a three-pointer, Troy Webster and Steve Frick each had four points and Joe Wassel and Danny Williams two points as the Colonials rushed ahead, 16-2. Wassel ended with 15 points.
Penn State didn't get its fourth field goal until the 10-minute mark, cutting the lead to 24-12.
While Gimelstob shuttled players in and out, the Lions outhustled the hosts for rebounds and, with Craig Collins (15 points) quickly getting three inside baskets, cut the deficit to six by intermission.
GW maintained an eight- to 10-point lead through the second half until the Lions began their run.
GW lost Craig Helms and Frick on fouls and was forced to use a smaller lineup. Wassel's jumper made it 59-51 with 4:58 left before Daniels' six straight points got the Lions close.