George Washington's basketball season should have begun in February.
Sparked by a 25-point effort from senior forward Chester Wood that equaled his career best, GW pulled away from Rutgers in the second half and posted a 72-63 triumph in an Atlantic 10 game last night at Smith Center.
In whipping Rutgers (7-19 overall, 2-15 in the conference) twice in one season for the first time, GW won its fourth straight game and fifth in seven this month in a drive toward a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Colonials improved their overall mark to 12-13 and conference record to 7-9, tying for fifth place.
George Washington closes out the regular season with games at Penn State Thursday and at St. Bonaventure Saturday. The first six teams receive first-round byes in the tournament.
Rutgers, which shot well from the field (51 percent) and outrebounded the Colonials, 35-27, couldn't overcome its ball-handling miseries -- 23 turnovers -- or stop the 6-foot-4 Wood.
Playing their final regular-season game here, Wood and five fellow GW seniors made up their minds long before tipoff they wanted this evening to end on a pleasant note. Except for a few sloppy moments, GW was always in control, although its lead was only 34-32 at intermission.
Wood, who made 11 of 13 from the field and three of four free throws, opened the second half with a jumper from the corner. Troy Webster (14 points) scored seven points and Wood nine more as the Colonials opened a 54-44 lead with 9:48 to play.
"Chester looked like me out there," Webster said, referring to his teammate's uncanny accuracy from 18-22 feet out. "I've been working with him."
Wood said he had been missing the same shots the last couple of games but tonight they fell.
"I hit the first couple and knew I had the rhythm," Wood said. "The team set some good screens and got the ball to me. I was real confident each time I shot the ball."
The Scarlet Knights, who got a good effort from Eric Riggins (17 points, seven rebounds), hung within 42-40 until they managed only two field goals over a seven-minute period and never recovered.
Wood and Webster took care of the scoring during that period, accounting for 23 of 27 points, as the Colonials' lead grew to 61-46 with just over seven minutes to play.
"Our defense created some opportunities for us, and we rebounded a lot better (in the second half)," GW Coach John Kuester said. "We didn't look low at all in the first half, relying on our jump shots. In the second half, we went inside some. Chester's effort was a result of his working hard in practice. If I shot like he did, I would look for my shot too."
Wood's final basket, a layup off the fast break, gave GW the 61-46 lead. Then, he could sit and watch Moti Daniel and Mike O'Reilly salt it away with free throws.