The Basketball Gods Must Be Crazy

Guard Marcus Williams was relieved to see Connecticut force overtime, but George Mason ultimately prevailed.
Guard Marcus Williams was relieved to see Connecticut force overtime, but George Mason ultimately prevailed. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By John Feinstein
Monday, March 27, 2006

When Denham Brown's last-second shot hit the rim a third time and then dropped through the basket to force overtime in the Washington Region final between Connecticut and George Mason, Verizon Center was completely chaotic.

The Connecticut players and coaches, having somehow escaped defeat in the final seconds of regulation for a second straight game, were completely overjoyed.

"We had been on our heels; now we had a shot of adrenaline," Coach Jim Calhoun said. "I thought we were in good shape at that moment."

So did almost everyone else in the building.

"I thought it was over," said a tearful Tom Yeager, the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association. "I thought we were dead."

Similar thoughts crossed the mind of Liz Larranaga, sitting almost directly across from Yeager.

"We were so close," she said. " So close."

So close to the Final Four, yet so far. In as improbable a basketball game as anyone watching had ever seen, Mason had come from 12 points down late in the first half and nine points down early in the second half to seemingly have control of the game, leading 74-70 with 18 seconds left after two free throws by Lamar Butler. But after Brown's spectacular reverse layup finally dropped after banging the rim over and over, Mason's impossible dream looked just about dead.

Everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing: So close . . .

Except for one man. As it had been through every twist and turn of these extraordinary two weeks, Jim Larranaga's voice was as calm as ever when his stunned players came back to the huddle.

"Fellas, I want to tell you one thing," he said. "There's no place I'd rather be right now than here with you guys playing this game. You lapsed on defense for five seconds, so now we have to beat Connecticut for another five minutes. There's no reason we can't do it."

Under these circumstances, words such as these are often hollow. But this group of players believes everything Larranaga tells them. If he had told them at that moment it was about to snow on the court, they would have put on gloves and boots.

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