"It was tough to go around a mountain," said Colonials coach Mike Jarvis. "Barnes was in charge. I told my assistants to go out and get me someone half as big and half as good as he is."
Barnes, 6 feet 7, 250 pounds, was the difference in the second half last night, as Penn State held off George Washington, 81-75, in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament before an overflow crowd of 7,103 at Recreation Hall.
George Washington had won two straight overtime games against the University of Massachusetts and St. Joseph's to reach the title game and put the Washington school in a rare basketball frenzy.
For Penn State, it was the end of an era in the Atlantic 10, and the Nittany Lions went out on a note that coach Bruce Parkhill said "was in my wildest dreams to go out that way."
His club will play as an independent in 1991-92, then join the Big Ten the next season.
Penn State was given the right to play the Atlantic 10 championship game at home when it won a coin flip with George Washington for the third seed at the end of the regular season.
Both teams were part of five-way tie for third place, and were even in all tie-breaking categories, including head-to-head competition. Each team won at home during the regular season, with GW taking an 83-70 victory Feb. 3 and Penn State winning, 69-65, Feb. 18.
Every time the Colonials fought back within striking distance of the fast-starting Nittany Lions, Barnes would answer with a big shot inside or a couple of free throws.
Mount Barnes finished with a game-high 22 points on six of nine from the field and 10 of 10 from the foul line and led Penn State (20-10) to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 26 years.
Because of Barnes, George Washington (19-11) was denied a chance to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years.
Barnes out-muscled anybody the Colonials threw at him inside, including starting center Byron Hopkins whose slender body was no match for Barnes.
Hopkins, a transfer to GW from the Naval Academy, didn't score a point last night and had only three rebounds.
But George Washington made a game out of it in the second half behind some outstanding shooting by sophomores Dirkk Surles and Sonni Holland.
Surles (21 points) and Holland (19 points) brought the Colonials back from a 46-31 halftime deficit, but the run fell short at the end.
"We had an opportunity to do something big for GW right now, but we let it slip out of our hands," Surles said.
Penn State came out in the first half and shot 59.4 percent from the floor to take the 15-point halftime lead after leading by as many as 19 in the first half.
The Nittany Lions hit five of six three-point tries in the first half, a shooting show that surprised the Colonials who expected Penn State to punch the ball inside from the start.
But the home team didn't go to their inside muscle until the second half and Barnes was the answer.
Barnes got a lot of help from teammate Freddie Barnes who scored 18 points and had six assists and was named the Most Valuable Player in the tournament.