George Mason Survives an Unusual Night

Jai Lewis drives to the basket against Devin Dickerson. The Patriots struggled for much of regulation.
Jai Lewis drives to the basket against Devin Dickerson. The Patriots struggled for much of regulation. (By Scott K. Brown -- Associated Press)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006

RICHMOND, March 4 -- Nothing about George Mason's dodgy 61-56 overtime victory over Georgia State in the Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinals on Saturday evening made any sense.

Patriots forward Will Thomas shot 8 of 10 from the field, but 3 of 10 from the free throw line. GMU made as many field goals in the extra period (five) as it did the entire second half. The Patriots' only three-pointers were made by a 6-foot-5, 230-pound reserve forward who had hit three all season.

But perhaps the most startling element of the ragged, foul-filled, poorly played, rhythm-less game was that a 10th-seeded team that had won all of six regular season contests and lost to the Patriots by 30 in December was in position to execute one of the grandest upsets in tournament history.

Instead, the second-seeded Patriots (23-6) survived an abysmal performance late in regulation and executed almost perfectly in overtime to set up a semifinal meeting with No. 3 Hofstra (23-5) on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Pride defeated No. 6 Virginia Commonwealth, 72-66, in the fourth quarterfinal on Saturday. It also defeated George Mason, 77-66, on Feb. 23 in their only meeting this season.

"I thought we had 'em all the way," Coach Jim Larranaga said with a smile that expressed as much relief as happiness. "It was one of those grind-'em-out games."

The Patriots had better hope no one from the NCAA tournament selection committee was watching because, except for overtime and a precious few spurts in regulation, they didn't look worthy of an at-large selection in case they don't end up earning the league's automatic berth by winning Monday's title game.

Mason shot 24 percent in the second half, made only 2 of 11 three-point attempts and was 21 of 37 from the free throw line. It led by two at the half and by eight after Folarin Campbell's dunk, but in the last nine-plus minutes of regulation, it failed to make a field goal.

The Panthers (7-22) turned to their three-point shooting to get back into the game, and as the Patriots continued to implode in their half-court offense, Georgia State twice seized the lead. It forced overtime when 5-9 guard Herman Favors was fouled while attempting a three-pointer with 32 seconds remaining. He missed the first, hit the next two to tie it, and the Patriots missed two opportunities before the buzzer.

In overtime, the bulky Sammy Hernandez scored in the lane and then nailed his second three-pointer and Thomas (19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) converted two lob passes to finally secure the victory.

"I don't think any game is a gimme; it's tournament basketball," Patriots guard Tony Skinn said. "I think they had that [30-point loss to GMU] in their heads because they came out strong early against us and fortunately we finished it off."

The Patriots trailed 5-0, 12-2 and 15-4 before finding their way against Georgia State's deliberate offense. But even after taking the lead in the second half, they never seemed comfortable with the flow of the game.

"We tried to make it difficult for them, but at the end, they made plays, we didn't make plays and that was the ballgame," said Panthers Coach Michael Perry, whose team surprised No. 7 Towson in Friday's first round but was whistled for 30 fouls Saturday (four players fouled out and two others had four).

"They basically played the type of game where there's not a great rhythm," Larranaga said, "and it's hard to get your offense going when you're not moving the ball at the normal pace you've seen all season long."

As for his free throw shooting difficulty at the drafty arena, Thomas offered this explanation: "It's very cold out there so when you're shooting with cold hands and cold arms, it's hard to make your free throws."

· HOFSTRA 72, VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 66: Antoine Agudio scored 34 points and hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to help the Pride withstand a furious rally by the Rams.

Agudio's point total tied the tournament record shared by three others. Virginia Commonwealth (19-10) closed within two points twice in the final 1:08.

Nick George (Montrose Christian) had 28 points for VCU.

· UNC WILMINGTON 69, DELAWARE 56: The top-seeded Seahawks (23-7) let a 10-point halftime lead slip to three early in the second half, but over the next 10-plus minutes, they outscored the ninth-seeded Blue Hens (9-21) by 22-6 to roll into the semifinals.

Back-court mates T.J. Carter (Chopticon High) and John Goldsberry scored 14 points apiece for UNCW, which made just 1 of 13 three-pointers and shot 42 percent overall.

· NORTHEASTERN 71, OLD DOMINION 63: The fifth-seeded Huskies, in their first year in the CAA after leaving the America East Conference, outscored the No. 4 Monarchs 17-3 in the final 4:13 to advance to the semifinals against UNC Wilmington at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Senior guard Jose Juan Barea, the conference's player of the year, finished with 20 points and nine assists. In the second half, the Huskies (19-10) shot 56 percent from the field, including 6 of 10 from three-point range, to oust the defending champions (21-9).

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