By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007
TOWSON, Md., Jan. 11 -- After watching two months of maddeningly inconsistent basketball, George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga just wanted to see a little stability from his Patriots. He did his part before tip-off Thursday night by pulling out the new, gold uniforms for the second consecutive game and by sticking with the same modified starting lineup.
Two hours later, following a surprisingly easy 73-44 victory over Towson, Larranaga was feeling much better about his team's direction.
The Patriots (8-7, 2-3 Colonial Athletic Association) led by 14 late in the first half, by 20 early in the second half and by 30 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining to beat the Tigers for the 10th consecutive time and secure their first winning streak since last year's NCAA tournament.
"What we asked the guys to do before the game is to concentrate on one thing, and that is consistency," Larranaga said. "Let's not do anything out of our personality, let's play our game, execute our stuff, but do it for 40 minutes. Sometimes we play great for a while and lose our focus, and I couldn't have asked for a better performance from start to finish at both ends of the floor."
As usual, the Patriots were led by Folarin Campbell (18 points, nine assists) and Will Thomas (16 points), but they also received an array of contributions from junior point guard Jordan Carter, who had nine points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals.
Mason shot 53 percent from the field and made 9 of 19 three-pointers.
Gary Neal, the nation's fifth-leading scorer, had 18 points for the Tigers (7-8, 2-3), but was held to 7-of-20 shooting and was hardly noticed. In the past two games, the Patriots have allowed just 78 points.
"We just played horrible," Towson Coach Pat Kennedy said. "It became like an avalanche -- once it started, we couldn't stop it."
Larranaga liked what he saw from his altered starting lineup during Monday's 21-point victory over North Carolina Wilmington and didn't hesitate to go with it again. Carter, Dre Smith and Chris Fleming began the game against the Tigers and helped the Patriots glide through an unusually smooth first half.
Leading 15-13, Mason began to establish itself offensively with a balanced attack. Carter got it started by blocking a shot on the perimeter and cruising in for a layup. Smith and Campbell each made three-pointers and Thomas worked the lane for a power layup as the lead reached double figures.
The Patriots closed the half by not allowing a field goal over four-plus minutes. Carter's scoop shot and Campbell's 18-footer just before the buzzer extended the lead to 33-19.
"We had a great shootaround [in Fairfax yesterday morning] and that tells the story of the game," said Thomas, a Baltimore native. "When we made that long bus ride up here, we were ready to play."
The defensive key was containing Neal, who entered with a 24.6-point average and had scored 93 points in his previous three games. The Patriots went with a man-to-man defense and alternated Smith, Campbell and Gabe Norwood on the 6-foot-4 shooter.
Early in the game, Neal was most effective drawing double-teams and slipping passes to open teammates for easy baskets. His three quick assists compounded the Patriots' issues with him, but as the game unfolded, Mason's defensive discipline limited Neal's options and forced him to work hard for reasonable shots.
"Early in the season, we weren't that consistent," Thomas said. "Now we're getting better and getting used to playing with each other, which makes us more consistent. It's working for us now."