WASHINGTON -- Happiness is several hundred happy people at your feet, the leader of the free world a long jump shot to your right, and the revelers below wanting to touch you instead of him.
That was the scene Kwame Evans soaked up yesterday, when the junior guard out of Baltimore's Southern High led George Washington to a 78-75 victory over No. 1 Massachusetts. Evans dropped a game-high 27 points on the Minutemen, then perched himself atop a basket, partly out of joy and partly to escape a sellout crowd that included President Clinton.
"This is unbelievable," Evans said.
Actually, the outcome of this Atlantic 10 Conference game, which ended the nation's longest winning streak at 16 and set up the probability that North Carolina will be No. 1 when it comes to Maryland on Tuesday, was rather predictable.
The joke was that President Clinton heard the nation's No. 1 team was coming to town, and traveled the mile from the White House to the Smith Center to check on Arkansas, which won an NCAA title the last time he went to a college basketball game.
Massachusetts asserted itself at the start of the season with a 24-point rout of Clinton's beloved Razorbacks, but the Minutemen were ready for a fall yesterday. Coach John Calipari's team had struggled to beat some so-so A-10 foes even before sophomore center Marcus Camby went down Wednesday against St. Joseph's with a hamstring strain that will keep him out for three weeks.
Even with Camby, however, Massachusetts (17-2, 9-1) lost here a year ago to George Washington (14-8, 7-3), and Calipari has one win to show for seven visits here. The Minutemen know they're always in for a fight with the Colonials, but coach Mike Jarvis, a Boston native who enjoys any victory over Massachusetts, didn't want to hear any excuses.
"I hope no one is foolish enough to think it might not have happened had Massachusetts not been without [Camby]," Jarvis said. "I hope UMass doesn't use that as an excuse. The record will show that he's been out of other games this year and that they won without him.
"We're going to enjoy the hell out of this. We scheduled it at 12 noon so we could get a full day's worth of publicity out of it. How many teams have ever had the president in the locker room in their home court after a game? This season has been a roller coaster, and right now we're at the top of Space Mountain."
From a season-opening upset of Syracuse to a 30-point loss to Duke in December to a surprising setback at West Virginia last week, the unranked Colonials have had one constant: points from Evans.
A 6-foot-6 shooting guard who went over 20 points for the 12th time this season, Evans bolstered his position as the leading scorer in the A-10 even though Massachusetts didn't give him an open look at the basket in the first seven minutes. His game includes patience, however, and he was ready when the game was on the line.
The Colonials out-hustled the Minutemen in the first half and turned an early cushion into a nine-point lead early in the second. But the visitors clawed back and led 59-58 on ace forward Lou Roe's three-point play with 8:56 to go.
More than six minutes passed before Massachusetts got another basket, however, and by then Evans had fueled a decisive 11-3 run that enabled George Washington to take a 69-62 lead into the last three minutes. He began and ended it with 15-footers, the first from the right side off the dribble. It put the Colonials ahead for good with 8:38 left.
A bonehead pass and some shaky free-throw shooting kept the door open for Massachusetts, which got within 76-75 on Edgar Padilla's three-pointer with 10.6 seconds left. Vaughn Jones made two free throws with 4.6 seconds to go for the final margin, and Derek Kellogg's 45-footer to tie at the buzzer came up 10 feet short.
It wasn't as momentous as getting to the Sweet 16 two years ago, but George Washington's first game ever against a No. 1 team easily resulted in the biggest regular-season success in the program's history. The sellout crowd of 5,020 couldn't contain itself, and the Minutemen didn't take too kindly to their bench being overrun at the end.
It just added to the incentive Massachusetts will have when the two meet again in Amherst in 10 days. By then, Calipari will have concocted additional ways to stop Evans, who went over the 1,000-point mark for his career. Besides his 27 points, he had eight rebounds and two assists.
George Washington, which outscored Massachusetts 29-13 at the free-throw line, got 18 points from both Nimbo Hammons and Jones. Roe had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Kellogg had 17 points on four three-pointers, but they didn't get enough help at the offensive end.
"Every gym we go into is packed, then you've got the president at the game," said Calipari, whose team, like Jarvis's, received a post-game locker-room visit from Clinton. "We didn't expect to run the table, and we're not going to make any alibis."