Under the Glare, Patriots Outshine Wichita State

By Jeffrey Parson
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 19, 2006

WICHITA, Feb. 18 -- George Mason guard Tony Skinn was ready. After repeatedly begging center Jai Lewis to look in the opposite corner for him when Lewis was double-teamed against Wichita State, Skinn had to be ready.

Yet when Lewis sent a pass his way during the closing seconds Saturday night, when the ball arrived in his hands with the score tied, Skinn said it was as though everything nearly came to a halt.

"I thought I was wide open when he passed it, but then the shot was so slow going up that a guy got a hand in my face," Skinn said. "It was like slow motion going up there. Fortunately, it went in."

Wichita State could not answer Skinn's three-pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining, and the Patriots claimed a 70-67 thriller at Koch Arena.

The victory is a huge one for George Mason (21-5), which has won eight straight. The Patriots not only took advantage of national television exposure but earned a road win against a team with a top 20 RPI. The Missouri Valley Conference has drawn attention this season, and the Shockers (20-7) lead the MVC race.

To beat such a team on the road is a potentially important win for the Patriots come Selection Sunday.

"Nothing's ever for sure with an at-large bid, but we viewed Wichita State as a team with the résumé to get in the NCAA tournament," George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said. "To beat a team like that on its home court this late in the season, it has to be something everyone would look at favorably."

The Patriots needed a good start in such a hostile environment. Lewis said the sellout crowd was "so loud it was like [the Shockers] had an extra man on the floor."

So hitting five of its first six three-pointers to build a 17-12 lead was key for George Mason. That it maintained a 33-29 lead until halftime helped, as well.

But the Patriots really took control early in the second half. A post-up basket and dunk from Will Thomas bookended a 9-0 run that lasted two minutes and gave George Mason a 44-31 lead.

Lewis was doing much of the damage on his way to 16 points. He outplayed WSU center Paul Miller, a likely all-MVC selection, for key baskets.

"I take any matchup personally, especially when he's got three or four inches on me like that," Lewis said. "I had some little tricks to use."

After WSU trimmed the lead to 46-39, Skinn ended the momentum by making two three-pointers within a matter of seconds. The Patriots, 9 of 18 from the arc at the point, led 52-39.

The Shockers turned to three-pointers to make one last attempt at getting back in the game, and it worked. WSU hit six threes in the final 10 minutes, including two from reserve guard Karon Bradley. He finished with a team-high 17 points, 10 more than his average.

Bradley's final three pulled WSU within three, 65-62, with two minutes. Protecting a three-point lead two possessions later, Mason turned the ball over on a Folarin Campbell charge with 41 seconds to play.

That led to Ogirri sinking a baseline three-pointer that tied it at 67 with 28 seconds left.

There was no doubt the Patriots were going to get the ball to Lewis, whose performance forced the Shockers to bring a late double team. Lewis's fourth assist helped Skinn claim his fifth three-pointer and a game-high 23 points.

The Shockers had 10 seconds remaining. But without a timeout, they could manage nothing more than a P.J. Couisnard air ball. The Patriots stormed the court in an eerily quiet arena.

"You know we can guard, but we couldn't guard that team tonight," WSU Coach Mark Turgeon said. "That's not an upset. That's a really good team that beat us, an NCAA team."

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