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UMass climbs over .500 with win over GW
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 2/24/2001

WASHINGTON - On a day that was dominated by defense, it didn't hurt the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team to have Monty Mack's shooting touch available, too.

Mack's hot hand broke the game open in the second half, and the UMass defense shut down George Washington's explosive offense as few teams have done, producing a 64-56 Atlantic 10 Conference victory at the Smith Center. It had been 96 days since UMass had last enjoyed a winning record, but the Minutemen are again peeking over .500 with a 13-12 record, and 11-3 in the A-10.

"I didn't even realize the .500 thing, because we've been contentrating on the Atlantic 10,'' said Mack, who scored 12 of his 24 points during an 18-9 surge that gave the Minutemen a 49-34 lead with seven minutes left.

Only then did George Washington (12-15, 6-8) begin showing the firepower of the league's No. 2 team (behind St. Joseph's) in scoring. GW, which shot 5 for 17 from 3-point range, hit three 3-pointers in the final 1:01, and closed to within 60-55 with 17 seconds left.

But UMass guard Jonathan DePina protected UMass' comfort zone, hitting eight straight free throws in the final 45 seconds.

"It's been a long time,'' said UMass coach Bruiser Flint, recalling that the Minutemen haven't been above .500 since they were 1-0 on Nov. 20. "People threw dirt on us when we were 2-9, but the guys have been able to bounce back. It's been a remarkable turnaround.''

UMass now travels to St. Joseph's, the A-10 leader at 12-1. If the Hawks lose today at Duquesne - which would be a colossal upset - UMass would be within one game of St. Joseph's entering Tuesday's showdown.

"We want to be one of the top two or three teams in the conference, and to put some heat on St. Joseph's,'' Flint said after UMass had moved into a tie with Xavier (11-3) for second place. "If Duquesne can pull it off, Tuesday's game could be for the (regular season) championship.''

The Minutemen held George Washington to 34 percent shooting, and held the Colonials' five starters to 4 for 25 accuracy. After forward Antxon Iturbe scored in the first two minutes, the Colonials didn't get another field goal from a starter until Mike King's basket with 5:17 left in the game.

SirValiant Brown, the nation's No. 2 scorer as a freshman last season, shot 1 for 9 and had eight points. Brown's only basket was a 3-pointer with 1:01 left, but it was still just his second college game with only one field goal, and his second-lowest scoring total.

In two games against UMass this year, Brown shot 6 for 24.

"He's a great scorer, but his game is to try to get the basket and get fouled,'' said UMass guard Shannon Crooks, who shackled Brown. "We pretty much know what he's going to do, so I tried to be smart, and not leave my feet.''

UMass led 27-19 at halftime, George Washington's lowest point total in a half at a home game since 1981. Mack supplied the second-half offense and hit six of his last eight shots to finish 9 for 18.

"We wanted to go inside, get the big guys some touches and work inside out,'' Mack said. "In the second half, I was trying to read the way GW was playing me. I'm just glad they went in.'' Flint recalled an old saying to explain why he ditched the inside game and went back to Mack, his most reliable scorer.

"We tried to go inside, but our big guys missed some layups,'' Flint said. "So I told the guys you always go with the girl you bring to the dance, and to forget all those plays.''

Chris Monroe, GW's leading scorer (19.1 points per game) scored 22 in a sixth-man role.

Attila Cosby, who dazzled UMass with 19 points and nine rebounds in January's 76-60 Minutemen win, scored nine with 12 boards.

DePina makes GW pay
UMass notebook
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 2/25/2001

WASHINGTON - For the George Washington University men's basketball team, fouling Jonathan DePina turned out to be not only an act of desperation, but a fruitless one, too.

The University of Massachusetts guard hit eight straight free throws in the final 45 seconds of yesterday's 64-56 Minutemen win at the Smith Center, giving his coach a chance to send some credit the 5-foot-9 senior's way.

"He's had a good year for us," Bruiser Flint said. "He's stepped up, made some big foul shots and big plays."

Foul shooting wasn't a problem for DePina at South Boston High, but he's labored at UMass. He was a career 56.5 percent free-throw shooter entering this season, and was 25 for 38 (65.8 percent) in 2000-01 before going 8 for 9 yesterday.

DePina played 24 minutes and scored eight points, all from the foul line. He had two assists, two turnovers and two steals, and also recorded the first blocked shot of the season and fifth of his career.


Jackie Rogers started at power forward in place of Micah Brand.

UMass assistant coach Mike Connor said Brand was suffering from a bunion, but Flint later told the real story that the 6-11 sophomore had overslept and had been late to a practice. Flint had to invoke a minor penalty, but said Brand is anything but a problem.

"He's not one you have to get on," Flint said. "One reason he didn't play well today (three points, two rebounds in 10 minutes) was that he felt bad about what he'd done."

Rogers scored eight points with five rebounds in 22 minutes, including a dunk after soaring through the lane to give UMass a 49-34 lead. He's been valuable off the bench, though, and Brand is expected to return to the starting lineup Tuesday at. St. Joseph's.


About 35 UMass fans and alumni came as a group to the game. It was part of an engagement party for Longmeadow natives Tony McGuinness and Kateri Egan.

The crowd also included Boston Celtics' icon Red Auerbach, who lives in the area. The announced attendance was 4,107, but seemed much smaller in the 5,000-seat Smith Center.


UMass has beaten George Washington twice in a season for the first time since 1993. The Minutemen won 76-60 in Amherst Jan. 6.

"We've taken some butt-kickings down here," Flint said. "Even when we had Lou Roe and Marcus Camby, GW stuck it to us here. This is a big win for us."

The Minutemen tied Xavier for second place in the Atlantic 10. Both teams are 11-3, with Xavier at La Salle today.


UMass had eight of its 18 turnovers in the first eight minutes . . . Point guard Shannon Crooks averaged three assists per game in UMass' first 23 games, but recorded five yesterday and has 12 in his last two games . . . Former UMass walk-on guard Jason Germain of South Hadley has coached the Stockbridge School, a two-year agricultural school operated as an adjunct to UMass, to a 7-0 record.

UMass takes out GW: Minutemen finally go over.500 mark
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 2/25/2001

WASHINGTON - Monty Mack might as well have been attempting to recall a story from the Old Testament yesterday.

Trying to remember UMass' last time over .500 required that kind of long-term memory. Yesterday's 64-56 win over George Washington in the Smith Center gave the Minutemen (13-12) a winning record for the first time since a season-opening win over Iona on Nov. 18.

Mack, like most of his teammates, had stopped keeping track a long time ago.

``I didn't even know, to be honest,'' the senior guard said after burying the daggers by scoring 15 of his game-high 24 points over the last 12:52.

There is more than the usual amount of significance attached to this peek over .500. The Minutemen are now in second place in the Atlantic 10 with an 11-3 conference record. They head into Tuesday's game against No. 23 St. Joseph's with the knowledge that no one - except, perhaps, themselves - thought this game would have meaning two months ago.

Beyond the fact that the Minutemen could still catch the Hawks (12-1) with a win Tuesday and help from either La Salle or Duquesne, yesterday's game was like a sudden flash of light.

``It's been a long time since we were over .500,'' UMass coach Bruiser Flint said. ``When we started off at 2-9, they threw dirt on us. And we've gone 11-3 since then. For us to go over .500 after where we were at the break says a lot about this team.''

The fruits of that long climb emerged yesterday in all sorts of painful ways on the George Washington side.

SirValiant Brown, the Colonials guard who finished second in the nation in scoring last season as a freshman, was limited by Shannon Crooks to one field goal for the first time in his career.

The Colonials' 19-point first half was the lowest halftime total at home since 1981. Their five starters combined to shoot 1-for-14 from the floor in the first half, with the light-shooting Antxon Iturbe scoring the only basket.

``We're all on the same page defensively right now,'' Crooks said. ``People are covering for each other.''

The result was an effective, if often ugly, pace. In other words, the Minutemen were able to have it their way. After slowly moving out with a 27-19 halftime lead, UMass continued to slog it out over the first seven minutes of the second half.

Mack, who had been successfully tracked by the combination of Brown and Chris Monroe out in 3-point range, finally stepped in to drain a step-back 10-footer for a 33-25 edge with 12:52 left.

This was the touch he needed to finally take flight. He hit a jumper from the lane, and Eric Williams followed with a hook for a 37-27 UMass lead, the largest edge of the game to that point.

Mack then drained an 18-footer, followed by a pair of 3-pointers, over the next three minutes. Jackie Rogers chipped in a pair of hoops, including a straight-on dunk off a sharp Williams feed, and the Minutemen led 49-34 with 7:11 left.

The Colonials made one last run over the last 56 seconds, with Brown, Monroe and Bernard Barrow all hitting 3-pointers to cut the UMass lead under 10 points. But Jonathan DePina offset that by shooting 8-for-8 from the line over the last 44 seconds.

Crooks denies desperate Colonial
UMass Notebook
By Mark Murphy, The Boston Herald, 2/25/2001

WASHINGTON - There were times yesterday when Sir Valiant Brown was so desperate for a foul, the George Washington guard put more energy into lunging at the nearest defender than taking a good shot.

UMass guard Shannon Crooks remained careful and was rewarded handsomely by the end of yesterday's 64-56 UMass victory.

Brown finished with eight points on 1-for-9 shooting from the floor - the lowest field goal total of the jittery sophomore's college career.

Knowing that it's election time, with Atlantic 10 coaches casting their votes for the A-10's various awards, UMass coach Bruiser Flint later put on his lobbyist's hat.

``Shannon did an outstanding job. He's the best defensive guard in the league,'' Flint said. ``We really stayed on top of him today.''

Considering Brown's over-the-top attempts to draw contact, Crooks knew that staying tight to the guard wasn't the most difficult part of yesterday's assignment.

``His main thing is to try and get to the line,'' Crooks said. ``You have to be smart with him. But we knew what he would try to do. I was just trying to stay on my feet, and stay in front of him.''

Backup breaking out

Eric Williams has gradually developed into the best backup center in the Atlantic 10 this side of St. Joseph's Alexandre Sazonov.

Yesterday, Williams finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting, six rebounds (including four offensive), two steals and one block.

The little things count for a lot here. More to Williams' credit is the fact that the Minutemen haven't lost much in terms of the level of play when Kitwana Rhymer leaves the floor.

``If you're not scoring, then everyone thinks you're not a good player, but I want to make something happen with other parts of my game,'' Williams said. ``One thing Bruiser says is that if you don't play defense, then you won't play for him. So I work hard on defense, and I try to go for every rebound I can.

``I know in my heart that I can play,'' he said. ``I bring certain things to the game, and (Rhymer) brings others.''

Sweet sweep

Yesterday's win, with GW alumnus Red Auerbach in his usual seat of honor, marked the first time since the 1992-93 season that the Minutemen have beat the Colonials in two regular-season games.

``This has been a tough building for us to play in, even when we had guys like Lou Roe and Marcus Camby,'' Flint said. ``One of my assistants looked at this game on the schedule a long time ago and said, `You know that that game in February is going to be crazy.' '' . . .

Micah Brand played only 10 minutes, the penalty for reporting late for a practice.

Colonials Doomed by Slow Start
By Kathy Orton, Special to The Washington Post, 2/25/2001

Despite a late flurry of baskets, the George Washington men's basketball team failed to overcome one of its worst offensive outputs at home in two decades, losing to Massachusetts, 64-56, in an Atlantic 10 Conference game yesterday.

Sophomore guard Chris Monroe scored 22 points off the bench to lead the Colonials (12-15, 6-8), who slipped to seventh place in the league standings. The Minutemen (13-12, 11-3) were led by Monty Mack's 24 points and moved into a tie with Xavier for second place in the league.

With two games remaining before the conference tournament, George Washington is in danger of finishing below .500 for the first time since the 1989-90 season.

The Colonials struggled against Massachusetts's tenacious defense, missing six of their first seven shots and never seeming to recover before 4,107 at Smith Center. George Washington scored just 19 first-half points, its lowest output in a half at home since 1981.

The Minutemen have "a veteran ballclub and they play tough," George Washington Coach Tom Penders said. "Their defense is as good as anybody you play."

George Washington made a late run at Massachusetts, scoring 12 points in the final minute to get within six. However, Jonathan DePina made all eight of his free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.

"That was desperation," Colonials guard Mike King said of the scoring burst. "When you're desperate, it seems like you hit shots."

But for most of the game, George Washington's offense struggled. Until King sank a baseline jump shot with 5 minutes 17 seconds remaining, Antxon Iturbe was the only starter to make a field goal in the game. The starting lineup of Albert Roma, Bernard Barrow, SirValiant Brown, King and Iturbe shot 4 of 25 overall, and Brown and Barrow did not make a basket until the final minute. It was the first time in his college career that Brown was held to one field goal. He finished with eight points by making 5 of 6 free throws.

The Colonials' reserves outscored their starters 35-21. GW, which never led, shot 34 percent.

Despite its offensive woes, GW stayed with Massachusetts until the second half. The Minutemen broke the game open with a 14-7 run during which Mack hit a pair of three-pointers and a long jump shot.

"They had the X factor in Monty Mack," Penders said. "His little run there was the difference in the game."

Massachusetts, which began the season 2-9, hadn't been above .500 since the first game of the season. The Minutemen have clinched a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which will begin March 7 in Philadelphia.

Defense, Mack win it for UMass
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/26/2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - With his team unable to put George Washington away despite leading for most of the game Saturday, University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint abandoned his pregame offensive plan and went to an old reliable.

UMass began running plays for Monty Mack, and the senior guard delivered. His 12 points in a five-minute stretch lengthened a six-point lead to a 13-point advantage, which proved insurmountable for GW.

The Minutemen withstood a late Colonial spurt and earned a 64-56 win at the Smith Center.

"We were trying to go inside, but our big guys missed a few lay-ups," Flint said. "So I said, 'Go with the girl that always brings you to the dance.' I said, 'Look Mont, I'm calling your plays.' And he made big plays for us."

"I was just reading the way they were playing defense and I came off looking to shoot it," said Mack, who finished with a game-high 24 points.

Flint never abandoned his team's defensive game plan, and with good reason. Known for their man-to-man defense, the Minutemen delivered a signature performance to hold the Colonials 21 points below their season average.

"I thought UMass' team defense was outstanding," GW coach Tom Penders said.

Shannon Crooks highlighted the effort by holding SirValiant Brown to one field goal and eight points, the fewest field goals of his career.

Brown didn't score from the floor until he hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 55.7 seconds left in the game. He finished with eight points, 9.4 below his season average. Chris Monroe led the Colonials (12-15, 6-8 Atlantic 10) with 22 points.

The win put the Minutemen (13-12, 11-3 A-10) over .500 for the first time since they beat Iona in their season opener.

"It's been a long time," Flint said. "We've been able to bounce back. When we were 2-9 everybody was throwing dirt on us. It's been an unbelievable turnaround."

Crooks echoed the coach's sentiment.

"It means a lot," Crooks said. "It means we came a long way. Guys fought. We didn't give up, even though we were down. Guys stuck together."

Two games over .500 is a place they've never been, but will try to reach Tuesday at 9:30 in Philadelphia, against first-place St. Joseph's.

The Colonials pulled within five in the final minute of the game, but Jonathan DePina made all eight free throws he attempted in the final 45 seconds to seal the UMass win.

"I always tell Jonathan that the last two minutes of the game are point-guard time," Flint said. "You have to control the team and step up and make foul shots and that's what he did. It was huge."

Kitwana Rhymer scored inside to put UMass ahead 2-0, 18 seconds into the game. The Minutemen held the lead the rest of the way.

George Washington stayed within five for most of the first half and pulled within a hoop at 13-11 with 8:10 to play, but a three-point play by Micah Brand and a trey by Mack gave the Minutemen their then-biggest lead of the game at 19-11. They maintained that pace until intermission, when they led 27-19.

UMass led by eight points six times, but couldn't break into double digits until Flint turned to Mack.

The Minutemen swept the season series with the Colonials and beat them twice in the regular season for the first time since 1993.

Williams delivers at both ends
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/26/2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - After Tuesday's win over Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts backup center Eric Williams talked to coach Bruiser Flint.

"He got on me after the Rhode Island game," Flint said. "He said the players kept telling him that I told them not to pass him the ball in the post."

Williams disagreed with the plan.

"When the season first started I was hurt and I couldn't jump off my foot like I wanted to," he said. "Bru hadn't seen me play since high school. I wanted to show that I could score in the post as well as stepping out."

Williams lived up to his claim and scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in Saturday's win over George Washington. Flint was happy to be proven wrong.

"Tonight he showed he can make a couple baskets in the post," said Flint, adding that Williams did more than just score. "He rebounded the ball. The most important thing is he did a great job defensively on Attila Cosby. Cosby had it going a little bit, but Eric came in and did a great job of shutting him down."

The highlight of Williams' night, however, was a pass. With 7:12 left in the game, he collected the ball in the corner. When the George Washington defense collapsed on him, he threaded a perfect pass to Jackie Rogers racing through the lane. Rogers thundered home a dunk to give the Minutemen their biggest lead of the game at 49-35.

Williams has played the fewest minutes of any of the UMass big men, but he's made the most of those minutes, showing a knack for relentlessly tracking down rebounds.

He admits he'd like to play more, but is glad to be winning.

"I have to be ready when I play. I try to do my best every time I'm on the floor," Williams said. "Sometimes you don't play as much or as well as you want to play. It's been easier when we're winning. We have to show all the other big men in the A-10 that UMass has the four best big men in the A-10. I'm not trying to doubt the kid from Xavier (David West) or any other team, but as a unit I think our corps is the best in the A-10."

BRAND SITS: Junior Jackie Rogers started at power forward in place of Micah Brand, who was being disciplined for being late to practice. Brand played only 10 minutes and scored just three points. Flint stressed that the mistake was out of character for Brand.

"He overslept, but he's not one of those kids that you have to worry about that stuff," Flint said. "One reason he played bad today because he felt bad about what he did."

UMASS FANS IN ATTENDANCE: The normally tough-to-play-at Smith Center didn't have the atmosphere that it had for some previous UMass-GW games. Of the announced attendance of 4,100, a number of them appeared to be disguised as empty seats. There was a high percentage of Minuteman fans in the building as well.

Included in the crowd was legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach and UMass recruit Eddie Basden, who signed a letter of intent to play for the Minutemen in November.

MISCELLANEOUS: GW's 19 first-half points were their lowest in a half since 1981. Monty Mack became UMass' all-time leader in minutes played with 4,208. His 24 points gave him 2,085 in his career.

HAVE A SEAT RIGHT THERE: Even Flint got into the defensive act, although it was on his own assistant coach. When Mike Connors strayed a little too far out on the floor shouting instructions, Flint yanked him back to avoid a technical, but Connors, caught off-balance, fell, landing on the seat of his pants.

"I was like, Mike, please, it's bad enough that I'm on the court," Flint said afterward, chuckling.

Crooks in Brown's pocket
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 2/26/2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The statistic spoke for itself. SirValiant Brown had one field goal. That's the same knight-named guard who averaged 24.6 points per game as a freshman last year and is averaging 17.4 points per game this year.

That in itself says a great deal about the defense played against him Saturday.

But the most telling stat is that SirShootsalot only attempted nine shots. This is a guy who never met a spot on the floor within 30 feet of the basket that he didn't think was in his range.

But University of Massachusetts guard Shannon Crooks guarded him so closely that he rarely even got in position to shoot.

At one point, Brown dribbled frantically outside 3-point range. As he took a step toward the hoop, Crooks stayed with him. Brown cut around a screen, but Crooks was waiting for him on the other side.

When the shot clock had evaporated to two seconds, a frustrated Brown passed the ball to a surprised Antxon Iturbe well behind the arc. The big man, who had attempted only one other three, tried a desperation shot, but was blocked by Micah Brand.

"I just went out there and tried to focus on defense," Crooks said. "I take pride in my defense. You have to take pride in whatever you do. I just try to play as hard as I can."

UMass coach Bruiser Flint made up for Crooks' modesty.

"Shannon did an outstanding job guarding him," Flint said. "I've been saying that I think Shannon Crooks is the best defensive guard in the league."

Crooks wasn't the only Minuteman to have a strong day on defense. Eric Williams came off the bench to neutralize a surging Attila Cosby. GW's entire starting lineup of Brown, Iturbe, Mike King, Albert Roma and Bernard Barrow produced just four field goals.

The 19 points that the Colonials scored in the first half were fewest they've had in a half since 1981.

"We said coming in that we needed a great defensive effort," Flint said. "We needed to get out on top of their shooters, stop splits so they don't get penetration. We needed to match down defensively in transition to they don't get any easy baskets.

"I always like to think that we are the best man-to-man defensive team in the league," Flint continued. "We try to make teams shoot a low percentage and guys took up the challenge today."

Heading into a postseason tournament that UMass hopes will yield three wins in three days, nobody can expect to have great shooting nights on all three nights.

It is, however, reasonable to think that a team can keep up its defensive intensity over that stretch. UMass historically has hung its hat on its man-to-man defense. If the Minutemen do that effectively in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, they'll have a legitimate chance to win it.

Video clips

All clips in MPEG format.
Video clip Shannon Crooks finishes the break. (file size = 475k)
Video clip Monty Mack doesn't get fancy on the uncontested basket. (470k)
Video clip Mack pulls up and knocks down two of his 24 points. (476k)
Video clip Jackie Rogers breaks free and slams it home. (474k)
Video clip Jon DePina put the game away with his free throws at the end. (475k)

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Massachusetts Minutemen 64
George Washington Colonials 56
at George Washington

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Rogers          22   3-6   2-2   2-5  1  1    8
Smith           20   1-3   0-1   1-2  1  3    2
Rhymer          23   2-8   3-6   1-8  0  5    7
Mack            38  9-18   1-2   0-0  0  2   24
Crooks          35   2-7   0-1   0-2  5  2    4
Depina          24   0-2   8-9   2-4  2  3    8
Blizzard         9   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  2    0
Williams        19   4-5   0-1   4-6  1  2    8
Brand           10   1-4   1-1   0-2  1  2    3
TOTALS         200 22-53 15-23 10-29 11 22   64
Percentages: FG-.415, FT-.652. 3-Point Goals:
5-13, .385 (Mack 5-11, Crooks 0-1, Depina 0-1).
Team rebounds: 9. Blocked shots: 7 (Rhymer 2,
Mack, Depina, Blizzard, Williams, Brand).
Turnovers: 18 (Mack 4, Rogers 3, Blizzard 2,
Brand 2, Crooks 2, Depina 2, Rhymer, Smith,
Williams). Steals: 10 (Crooks 3, Depina 2, Smith
2, Williams 2, Blizzard).
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
King            23   1-6   4-8   0-0  0  2    6
Iturbe          21   1-3   0-0   1-3  2  3    2
Roma             4   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Barrow          35   1-7   2-2   0-3  0  5    5
Brown           33   1-9   5-6   0-1  1  3    8
Monroe          34  7-12   5-7   1-2  2  1   22
Cosby           34   4-8   1-2  2-12  1  2    9
Smith           15   1-1   2-4   1-2  0  2    4
Collucci         1   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
TOTALS         200 16-47 19-29  5-23  6 20   56
Percentages: FG-.340, FT-.655. 3-Point Goals:
5-17, .294 (King 0-2, Iturbe 0-1, Barrow 1-5,
Brown 1-4, Monroe 3-4, Collucci 0-1). Team
rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 7 (Cosby 4, Brown,
Monroe, Smith). Turnovers: 17 (Barrow 3, Brown 3,
Cosby 3, Monroe 3, Smith 2, Iturbe, King, Roma).
Steals: 8 (Brown 2, Monroe 2, Smith 2, Barrow,
Massachusetts      27   37  -   64
Geo Washington     19   37  -   56
Technical fouls: None.  A: 4,107. Officials: Joe
Demayo, Merv Shapiro, Ken Clark.

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