The first time George Washington's Ellis McKennie faced Rhode Island, as a freshman in 1987, he was part of a victory celebration. After eight straight defeats by the Rams, McKennie helped the Colonials and a homecoming crowd of 4,378 celebrate once again, 80-64, yesterday at Smith Center.

McKennie scored 23 points, six in a row late in the game when Rhode Island threatened to wipe out a big lead. He led the Colonials with eight rebounds and provided inspiration as well, on one occasion hurdling the press table in pursuit of a loose ball. Dirkk Surles, another major contributor, had 22 points.

The victory was the Colonials' 14th of the season. Only once in the last 10 years has George Washington topped that figure, posting a 17-12 record in 1983-84.

"We were all concentrating on getting No. 14," McKennie said. "It took us until the first round of the tournament last year and we want to get a lot more this time. And we wanted to get this win after the bad game we played in Philadelphia."

While building a 36-25 lead in the first half, George Washington (14-8, 8-6 in the Atlantic 10) held the Rams (9-13, 5-9) without a field goal for 10 1/2 minutes. During the half, Rhode Island was charged with 13 turnovers while managing to launch only 15 shots, of which it sank five.

"The first half we played great defense," said GW Coach Mike Jarvis. "We're last in the Atlantic 10 in steals, but we're the top team in field-goal defense. If you play solid team defense, the other team is going to make mistakes."

"That was the game," said Rhode Island Coach Al Skinner, whose club made a lot of mistakes in losing its sixth straight. "You can't have a situation like that and be successful. We were fortunate to be only 10 behind {actually 11} at the half, because it could have been 20. GW was aggressive, stayed with its defense and caused turnovers. We were playing pretty good defense, but those turnovers were the difference."

Both teams were handicapped by misfortunes that befell their high scorers. In the Colonials' case, Sonni Holland left for the hospital after scoring six of his team's first 12 points. He was a victim of the flu that also limited his play in a Thursday loss at Temple.

"He's been fighting the flu and with the heat and the excitement, he ran out of gas," Jarvis said. "He was tired and short of breath, so we had him taken to the hospital, just as a precaution."

Rhode Island's Eric Leslie, the fourth best scorer in the Atlantic 10, was an absentee because of a sprained wrist and pulled ligaments in his shooting hand. Leslie's 21 points helped beat the Colonials in Kingston, R.I., Jan. 3.

"No question, that made a big difference in our point production," Skinner said. "You can't take away those 20 points. I thought we could replace them, but we haven't."

The Rams held a 10-5 lead five minutes into the game but fell apart, managing only two field goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half.

After Carlos Easterling hit a jump shot with 11:36 left to give Rhode Island a 13-10 advantage, the visitors did not hit from the field until Carlos Cofield sank a three-pointer with 1:04 on the clock, reducing GW's lead to 36-25.

Not only were the Rams not scoring, they simply weren't able to get off any shots. Those two field goals in the last 15 minutes came on only eight shots, as Rhode Island was charged with 10 turnovers.