This was a game for defensive aficionados, and Temple made the game's biggest defensive play on the contest's final possession, holding off George Washington, 56-54, last night at the Smith Center.

With a swarming 1-3-1 zone, Temple cut off GW's two hot three-point shooters and center Mike Brown, leaving the ball in the hands of guard Troy Webster. With Charles Rayne in his way and with time about to expire, Webster did the only thing he could: shoot.

The shot was short, and the referees called a jump ball on the rebound as time expired. There was contact between Rayne and Webster. "It was the type of call that could have gone either way," Webster said. "They (the referees) could call it or not call it. They decided to not call it."

But, in defeat against the best team in the Atlantic 10 Conference, GW (12-12, 7-8 in the league) seemed to have put Webster's recent suspension and low team morale out of its mind. Coach Gerry Gimelstob, who often is upset in victory, had no harsh words after this defeat.

"This has to be a positive game for us, even though the results were not positive," he said. "The kids listened and followed everything we said. We had a chance to win up until the last second."

Said Mike O'Reilly, GW's point guard: "We were together. We fought back. We never quit. It's good to have a together feeling. It can only be a plus. You know as well as I do that we're not a 12-12 team."

Defense was paramount, as each team shot only 39 percent for the game. For the second straight game, Brown (nine points) had only one basket. GW shot 33 percent from two-point range and 50 percent from three-point territory. Joe Wassel had 17 points and Mike O'Reilly nine.

Forward Granger Hall led Temple with 16 points.

The aggressiveness shown by Temple on the final play was indicative of how the Owls took control in the second half when they extended their zone defense, forced GW -- with its ninth different starting lineup in 24 games -- into making long passes (a Colonial weakness) and took advantage of 11 turnovers by GW in 18 possessions to take a 43-37 lead.

The Owls extended the margin to 50-41 before the Colonials rallied, with Wassel, Brian Butler and O'Reilly each hitting a three-pointer; O'Reilly's made it 56-54 with 1:48 to play. By this time, GW was playing a zone, a move that surprised Temple Coach John Chaney, and his players were taking long jumpers -- and missing them -- without using the clock properly.

Temple kept possession of the ball for the next 1:28. Ed Coe missed a jump shot with 1:16 left, just a split second after Chaney had successfully ordered a timeout from the bench. The 45-second clock, which should have been reset at 13 seconds, was set at 23.

Then, Howard Evans missed a long jumper, but Rayne, a defensive standout who scored only six points, got the rebound with 56 seconds to play. Coe missed another 18-footer, with 19 seconds, GW got the rebound and called time with 14 seconds to play.

Many figured that GW would play for the three-point shot, and the victory. Chaney made sure that wouldn't happen.

Gimelstob ordered an offense that would work against man-to-man, a 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1, with Webster the key, as the outlet valve at the high post.

The inbounds pass went from Wassel to O'Reilly, who had six rebounds and six assists even though he did not start, as usual, because of a sore back that has caused him to miss practice all week.

Then the ball was in Webster's hands, and Temple guard Nate Blackwell said the Owls concentrated on keeping Wassel, O'Reilly or Brown from getting it.