It could have been a wonderful, electric day for George Washington basketball. The opponent yesterday was Rhode Island, off to its best start in nine seasons and the Atlantic 10 Conference's leading offensive team. A boisterous crowd of 4,386 had gathered at Smith Center for a special Martin Luther King Day afternoon game being nationally televised by ESPN. And it was an unmitigated disaster.

The Colonials were embarrassed, 92-61, by the Rams -- GW's worst loss at Smith Center since the building opened in 1975 and its worst anywhere since a 96-56 drubbing at Pittsburgh in 1973-74. Two Colonials fans were ejected from the building during the first half, the first at referee Pete Pavia's insistence. He was subjected to an obscene chant almost every time he blew his whistle the rest of the game.

"I thought the crowd overall was great," GW Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said after the game. "but when you have 4,300 people in a gym, you're going to get one or two who are unruly. I think the security people did a good job and after {the first half} we had no more trouble. I'm sorry we didn't give them more of a chance to root and cheer."

So was GW Coach John Kuester.

"We had a great crowd, a great atmosphere for college basketball and I was disappointed with the way we performed," said Kuester, whose team has lost five straight games and has a 7-7 record (1-4 in the Atlantic 10) after beginning the season 7-2. "I'm disappointed with the way I coached and with the way our kids played. . . . It becomes a snowball effect. When you're playing well, then everything starts bouncing your way. I just want our kids to bounce back, understand we're 7-7 now and it doesn't get easier. We have to perform at a high level."

Even if the Colonials had performed at a high level yesterday, they still might have had problems.

Rhode Island (14-2, 4-1), which has played 13 of its 16 games on the road, entered the game averaging 87.3 points -- 43.1 of which was being scored by guards Carlton Owens (22.8, first in the Atlantic 10) and Tom Garrick (20.3, third in the Atlantic 10). The Rams have won at Virginia by three points, at Providence by 22 and they are feeling they deserve a place in someone's top 20.

"This team is hungry for recognition," Coach Tom Penders said. "But to get that recognition, it's very important to play well when you're on TV. I think that was a major motivating factor today."

Matched up against Joe Dooley at the start of the game, Garrick became the focus of Rhode Island's initial offensive efforts. He got the game's first eight points. After John Evans made it 10-0 with a third-chance layup, the Colonials called time.

They pulled within 10-5 on Max Blank's layup and Gerald Jackson's three-pointer. They got no closer.

Leading by 17-11, the Rams went on a 16-2 run to go ahead. When GW got within 39-22, they went on a 10-2 run to make it 49-24 with one minute before halftime.

In the half, Rhode Island outrebounded the Colonials, 23-6, and outscored them on the fast break, 20-0.

After the Rams' 18-5 run during the second half's first 6:20, the score was 67-32. Minutes later, the Rams took their largest leads of the game, 75-36 and 77-38.