By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
WILLIAMSBURG, Jan. 16 -- When George Mason hosted William & Mary two weeks ago, the Patriots looked like a team in turmoil, while the Tribe gave the impression that it would be the Colonial Athletic Association's unlikely darling this year.
But Tuesday night, the Patriots showed how much they want to keep that title for themselves.
The venerable Will Thomas and replacement starter Darryl Monroe dominated inside -- despite myriad defenses designed to hold them in check -- and the Patriots held off the Tribe, 76-63, at Kaplan Arena to avenge a loss on Jan. 3.
After falling under .500 overall and starting 0-3 in the CAA, the victory gave the Patriots their fourth straight win, the longest streak of what has been an up-and-down season.
"The biggest difference for us between tonight and two weeks ago is consistency," George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said. "We've made good, consistent decisions. We had four turnovers tonight, that's a sign that we're being consistent."
George Mason (10-7, 4-3) had used a stifling defense to power its recent run, allowing just 43.3 points in its three previous games. And even though that defensive prowess didn't come into play against the Tribe, it hardly mattered because William & Mary (10-7, 3-4) failed to find an answer for Thomas and Monroe, who keyed another efficient offensive performance by the Patriots.
Thomas scored 19 points and grabbed four rebounds, hitting on his first eight shots. He didn't miss until the latter part of the second half, a reverse layup that nearly dropped after dancing on the rim.
Monroe, stepping into the lineup for the injured Chris Fleming, scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, while pulling down four rebounds.
"I had to step up and I was fortunate enough to do that," said Monroe, making just his third start. "Coaches want me to be aggressive on the offensive end. Tonight I was able to do that."
In combination, the pair proved particularly dangerous because their early aggressiveness softened the William & Mary defense, which was then forced to choose between collapsing to clog the inside or staying put to mind the perimeter.
The Patriots managed to make either decision a losing proposition for the Tribe.
George Mason hit 11 of 23 three-point attempts on the way to shooting 54 percent from the field.
George Mason guard Folarin Campbell scored 17, while Jordan Carter and John Vaughan finished with 12 apiece. All three were the beneficiaries of open shots thanks to the havoc created by Thomas and Monroe inside.
"We got inside the defense," said Thomas, who teamed with Monroe for six assists. "We looked for each other and got our own shots, too."
William & Mary Coach Tony Shaver used a combination of zone defenses to guard against Thomas.
"We had to try to do something," Shaver said. "As a result of that, when they shoot it that well, they're tough to defend, tough to stop."
Even when the defense did work, the George Mason forwards muscled through two, or sometimes three, defenders to get to the basket. The Tribe spent most of the second half collapsing on the inside, which opened things up for the Patriots' perimeter players.
"That's all a reflection of good interior play," said Larranaga, who watched his team outscore the Tribe 32-24 in the lane.
Twice in the game, the Patriots used big scoring runs to push the lead to 15 and 14, respectively. Both times, the Tribe rallied to cut the deficit to a two-possession game. The Tribe trailed just 43-39 with 15 minutes 42 seconds left after falling behind by 17.
But the Patriots made one more push that the Tribe couldn't answer as George Mason outscored William & Mary 30-17 over the next 11 1/2 minutes.