Area Men

GMU's Larranaga Wins No. 400

With time running out, the crowd at Patriot Center began chanting Larranaga's name.
With time running out, the crowd at Patriot Center began chanting Larranaga's name. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jim Larranaga's 400th career victory lacked the drama of so many other wins during his 24 years as a head coach, but after what he and his team endured over the weekend, he was perfectly content settling for the 70-58 decision over Delaware last night at Patriot Center.

George Mason did not trail after the first four minutes and led by 18 midway through the second half to rebound from Saturday's last-second loss to UNC Wilmington and remain tied for second in the cluttered Colonial Athletic Association standings.

"When we lost on Saturday, it hurts," Larranaga said. "The way we lost makes it hurt even worse. But I asked them to dedicate themselves to playing better team defense and to try to get back to the kind of defense that is tough to score on consistently. I thought we did that."

Limiting the Blue Hens (11-15, 8-8) to 29.6 percent shooting in the first half and 35 percent overall, the Patriots (19-8, 11-5) avenged an overtime loss to Delaware last month and stayed even with UNCW with two conference games remaining. William & Mary and Old Dominion are a game behind.

Will Thomas had 24 points on 12-of-18 shooting and 14 rebounds, Folarin Campbell continued his productive winter with 19 points and Louis Birdsong complemented the front-court attack with 10 points and eight rebounds. Mason made just 1 of 9 three-pointers and struggled from the free throw line again, making 11 of 18, but scored 52 points from the lane and shot 55 percent in the second half.

Georgetown transfer Marc Egerson had 15 points for the Blue Hens, who lost their sixth straight in Fairfax and, unlike their 19-point comeback against the Patriots in the first meeting, barely dented Mason's big lead in the final 10 minutes.

A 16-4 run that resulted in an 18-point lead essentially put the game out of reach.

"We just kept running the same thing, trying to look for mismatches," said Campbell, who is averaging about 20 points in the past 11 games. "We tried to get Will down low and let him go one-on-one and I felt they had some smaller guards on me so I could post up, too."

Mason recovered from a sloppy start (a missed dunk, air ball and turnover on the first three possessions) and strung together nine consecutive points to take the lead for good. The Patriots used two additional small surges to gradually expand their advantage: 6-0 to make it a 10-point game, and 7-0, capped by Campbell's rebound of Dre Smith's missed free throw and short jumper, for a 28-15 lead at the 4-minute 15-second mark.

Smith's free throws with 22 seconds remaining increased the margin to 14, but Herb Courtney hit a three-pointer from the right corner off an inbounds pass just before the halftime buzzer to cut the deficit to 32-21.

Thomas started the second half with a pair of jump hooks, but the Blue Hens answered with nine consecutive points to pull within six. That's when the Patriots broke away, scoring on eight straight possessions during the decisive run for a 52-34 advantage. Campbell started it with two jumpers, freshman Cam Long fed Birdsong for two layups, Thomas, who had his CAA-best 14th double-double, worked inside for six straight points and Campbell finished it with a bank shot.

Delaware, though, did not let the Patriots turn it into a rout, as Mason has done several times at home this season. And with time running out, many in the crowd of 4,667 began chanting Larranaga's name.

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