The George Washington basketball team, which struggled throughout much of the first half of the season, did itself proud last night.
Mike O'Reilly and Moti Daniel each sank two free throws and Troy Webster forced a turnover in the final 1:05 as GW held on to upset Atlantic 10 Conference-leading West Virginia, 76-75, before 3,826 at Smith Center.
Combining a tenacious defense -- which limited the West Virginia front line to a total of five inside baskets -- and some clutch shooting down the stretch, the Colonials (10-13 overall and 5-9 in conference play) took the lead midway in the second half and had the poise and teamwork to fend off the rallying Mountaineers (18-8, 13-2).
GW, trying its best to finish in the top six (out of 10 teams) and gain a bye in the postseason tournament, lost to these same Mountaineers, 75-74, in overtime in Morgantown last month. From the opening tip last night, GW matched the Mountaineers basket for basket, rebound for rebound and floor burn for floor burn.
With the score tied at 50, the Colonials ran off eight points to take their biggest lead, 58-50, with 9:30 to play. Webster (20 points, three steals), who played another flawless all-around game, Chester Wood (12 points) and reserves Craig Helms and Joe Dooley all came up with big baskets over the next eight minutes as the hosts held a small lead.
O'Reilly's two free throws with 1:05 to play put the Colonials up, 74-69. "Hey, I'm supposed to make them," he said. "I am a senior."
The Mountaineers, who appeared a step slow all night, especially on defense, woke up long enough in the final two minutes to convert three offensive rebounds into six points. The biggest basket came on a slick tip-in by Wayne Yearwood that cut GW's lead to 74-73 with 45 seconds to play.
"If we had played the first 37 minutes the same way we played the last three, the game would have been no contest," West Virginia Coach Gale Catlett said, referring to his team's aggressiveness in coming back from a seven-point deficit with 2:30 to play. "But we all know the game is 40 minutes. Had we won, it would have been a shame because GW played so well."
After Yearwood's basket, the Colonials lost the ball on a turnover. Yearwood slapped the ball off center Steve Frick's knee out of bounds and, suddenly, it looked like GW's big effort would be for naught as the Mountaineers came up court looking for the lead.
With the West Virginia front line virtually a nonfactor, the Mountaineers looked for either guard, Dale Blaney (23 points) or Holman Harley (all 21 points in the second half), to hit the big basket and deny the Colonials the chance to whip them here for a third straight year.
West Virginia forward Renardo Brown tried to get a pass to Blaney cutting across the lane but Webster managed to deflect the ball into the hands of teammate Daniel.
Daniel was fouled, sank both shots and GW led, 76-73, with nine seconds left. Harley scored with one second remaining but the Colonials had their 800th victory, and what a win it was, in the 68-year history of the school.