Area Men

Blue-Collar Patriots Hang On

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The George Mason Patriots have hardly been an artistic success through two games, but with a key forward sidelined and four guards in the starting lineup, Coach Jim Larranaga isn't worried about the aesthetics at this point.

The Patriots lumbered to another blue-collar victory last night, pulling away from Cleveland State in the final 10 minutes for a 56-47 decision before 4,127 at Patriot Center.

"This is a fun group to coach and we need to get better," said Larranaga, who started 2-0 for the first time in his 11 seasons in Fairfax. "There are a lot of things we need to work on and improve, and we're doing it. We need a little bit more time to develop a little more offensive chemistry."

Junior guard John Vaughan and senior forward Will Thomas scored 18 points apiece, but no other Patriot made more than one basket. While Vaughan and Thomas hit 12 of 19 attempts, the rest of the team combined to shoot 4 of 23. There were 37 turnovers overall and neither team shot better than 38 percent.

St. John's transfer Cedric Jackson had 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals for the Vikings (1-1), who could not solve the Patriots' 2-3 zone in the second half and lost to Mason for the second consecutive year.

The teams alternated spurts before the break -- 7-0 by the Patriots, 11 straight by the Vikings, 19-3 by Mason and 9-2 by the visitors to end the half. The Patriots' big push, turning a 16-10 deficit into a 29-19 lead, included three-pointers by Vaughan, Dre Smith and Folarin Campbell -- his first of the season after an 0-for-6 performance in the opener -- and five forced turnovers.

But the Patriots managed just Thomas's layup the final four minutes, and Jackson's three-pointer with five seconds remaining drew the Vikings within 31-28 at the break.

Mason pushed the lead to eight at the start of the second half, but went more than six minutes without scoring and watched the margin shrink to one.

The Vikings then forced a turnover, but with Joe Davis preparing to finish off a fast-break layup, Vaughan soared to slap away the shot from behind. Cleveland State corralled the rebound, but Patriots freshman Vlad Moldoveanu blocked the shot. The ball went out of bounds to the Patriots, triggering fist-pumping by the players and the loudest ovation of the night from the crowd.

"I saw the dude run for the layup and I kind of had it in my mind that I was going to be able to chase him down," Vaughan said. "I know that play had to get their team frustrated a little bit. We just fed right off that energy and was able to take over the game."

Moldoveanu followed with his first career three-pointer, and Jordan Carter made a free throw and then fed Thomas for a fast-break finish to provide a 43-36 lead with 8:46 to go. Despite several missteps down the stretch, including four missed free throws and 1-of-8 field goal shooting, the Patriots did not let the lead slip below four.

"A lot of runs," Larranaga said, "but our run at the end was the longest and the best."

LOYOLA, MD. 71, AMERICAN 67: Gerald Brown scored a game-high 32 points with five steals and Michael Tuck added 13 points, and the Greyhounds rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit in Baltimore. Loyola improved to 2-1. The Eagles are 1-1.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company