After four minutes last night, George Washington led visiting Rutgers, 8-0. After eight minutes, it was 16-4. The Scarlet Knights, seemingly uninterested, were shooting poorly and playing without intensity.
Unfortunately for the Colonials, college basketball games last 40 minutes. Eventually, Rutgers got an injection of life from reserves Creighton Drury and Donnell Lumpkin and came away with an improbable 80-75 victory.
The outcome at Smith Center hinged on a five-second sequence after Sonni Holland's 22nd point of the game had lifted George Washington into a 70-70 tie.
Rutgers's Keith Hughes drove toward the basket and flipped the ball through the hoop as he crashed into the Colonials' Byron Hopkins with 58 seconds left. The four upright GW players signaled offensive foul, but referee Lenny Wirtz allowed the basket and ruled that Holland had knocked Hughes off balance. Hughes also made the free throw.
Rutgers's Craig Carter then stole the inbounds pass and fed Earl Duncan, who was fouled by Ellis McKennie as he sank a layup. Carter got a break when he tipped the ball and gained possession after it struck an official and popped back into his hands. Duncan's free throw made it 76-70 with 53 seconds left.
"If that game was at North Carolina State, the same official would have called it a charge and not a block," said GW Coach Mike Jarvis. "Some day we'll get those calls that everyone else gets, but I guess we're still a year or two away.
"I'm not going to say the officials cost us the game, though. We were up by three, we had a chance to get control and we couldn't make easy shots. I'd like to look at some replays with the officials, but we shouldn't have been in that position."
Rutgers (8-6, 4-3 in the Atlantic 10) brought a 65 percent free-throw shooting mark into the game and topped that by seven with a 23-of-32 effort, sinking 18 of 21 in the second half.
"We've learned the lesson of what happens when you make those free throws," said Rutgers Coach Bob Wenzel, whose team had dropped six of its last eight.
Holland was the game's high scorer and his 22 points were twice as many as any GW player had managed in either of the two previous games. But none of his teammates was in double figures last night.
Brent Dabbs, a 6-10 senior center, led Rutgers with 20 and was well supported by Hughes's 17, Lumpkin's 16 (four for four on three-pointers) and Duncan's 15.
The Scarlet Knights, after miserable 32 percent shooting from the floor in the first half, sank 16 of 26 for 62 percent after the intermission, their best half of the season.
"We started the game poorly, but as we got more aggressive, we got better," Wenzel said.
Although Drury did not score in a 14-minute stint, he was diving for loose balls and generally inspiring his teammates to work harder. Drury got extra time because Mike Jones had a tooth knocked out by a first-half elbow.
Although Wenzel made note of the fact that no foul was called on the play in which Jones was injured, GW (8-6, 2-4) was whistled for 26 fouls to Rutgers's 15.
Another big turnabout that revolved around an official's ruling occurred with 2:09 left in the half and the Colonials leading, 32-22. Hopkins tapped in a basket, but it was disallowed and he was charged with his third foul for going over the top. It was GW's 10th of the half and Lumpkin made two shots while Hopkins took a seat.