The plummeting fortunes of George Washington University's men's basketball team finally took a turn yesterday. The Colonials beat Penn State, 65-61, to end a seven-game losing streak and earn their first Atlantic 10 Conference victory before 2,677 at Smith Center.

The outcome was in question until George Washington outscored the Nittany Lions, 14-4, to take a 53-46 lead with 2:38 remaining. But even then, Coach John Kuester wasn't sure the Colonials had the win ensured.

"I think we were up seven," said Kuester, whose team had lost its last three by a total of five points. "They come down and we almost gave up a three-point play and it's a four-point game."

Penn State (8-10, 2-7), which has lost six of its last seven, closed within five when Paul Madison completed a one-and-one with 2:21 remaining, but the Nittany Lions could get no closer until Brian Allen's jumper at the buzzer.

George Washington (6-10, 1-6) was led by forward Chester Wood, who had a game-high 17 points on seven-for-10 shooting. Guard Troy Webster finished with 16.

But it was the Colonials' bench that helped the team outdistance the Nittany Lions in the second half.

"It wasn't the prettiest basketball game," Kuester said. "But we had great contributions by Brian Butler, Joe Dooley, Craig Helms and Moti Daniel."

Butler, a 6-foot-4 guard, who did not start, scored eight of his 10 points in the second half. Playing at the front of the Colonials' full-court press with Dooley, Butler helped force many of Penn State's 17 turnovers.

His steal at midcourt and dunk with 8:31 remaining gave George Washington a 44-42 lead, only its second of the half. Penn State's Paul Murphy tied the score on the next possession, but Helms added a three-point play to give George Washington a 47-44 lead with 7:04 remaining.

The Colonials completed three three-point plays in the second half and shot 17 for 22 from the line in the game, one reason why they were able to hold their lead.

"We did make some of our free throws, finally," Kuester said. In the first half, George Washington attempted only one free throw and trailed, 24-23, at halftime.

With 6:54 remaining in the half, it appeared that George Washington might be headed for its eighth straight loss. The Nittany Lions led, 20-12, and the Colonials appeared capable of hitting only long outside shots.

But Wood, who led all first-half scorers with 11 points on five-for-six shooting, made four consecutive baskets to tie the score.

GW took the lead for the first time since the opening minutes when Wood scored his last field goal of the half with 3:32 remaining. He was fouled and completed the three-point play for a 21-20 GW lead.

The Colonials went up by 23-20 when Steve Frick scored on a pass from Wood with 2:46 remaining. Penn State held GW scoreless the rest of the half and took a 24-23 lead on baskets by Carl Chrabascz and Mike Peapos.

The Colonials were unable to get the ball inside, as indicated by their lone first-half free throw. Meanwhile, Penn State was able to score best inside.

Chrabascz, a 6-8 forward, scored all 10 of his first-half points working around the basket. He finished with a team-high 14. Allen, a freshman from South Lakes High School in Reston, had eight first-half points and finished with 13. Mary Washington 94, Frostburg State 86

Junior guard Brian Hawley scored 26 points and sophomore forward Chip Suter added 19 points to lead the Blue Tide (12-4) to victory in Fredericksburg, Va. Guard Eddie Rutledge led the Bobcats (10-5) with a game-high 38 points.