Patriots Finish Half Empty

By Katie Carrera
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 24, 2008

ATHENS, Ohio, Feb. 23 -- By the time Folarin Campbell hit a free throw to give George Mason its first points of the second half, the Patriots had already missed five shots, and things were steadily getting worse. Ohio had cut the Patriots' 13-point halftime lead to five and regained the game's momentum.

After a commanding defensive performance in the first half, the Patriots sputtered, giving up 50 second-half points on their way to a 69-57 defeat that was part of Saturday's "Bracket Buster" television event.

The Patriots went from shooting a gaudy 63.2 percent from the field in the first half to 28 percent in the second, making it impossible to keep up with an Ohio team that hit its stride offensively.

"We stopped sharing the ball," guard John Vaughan said. "It's evident in our road losses this year: The first half we come out strong because we're sharing the ball and taking open shots. We were missing, and they were getting leak-outs, and once they got in a rhythm it was hard to stop."

The loss to Ohio (18-9), of the Mid-American Conference, is the sixth on the road this season for the Patriots (19-9) and essentially extinguishes any remaining hope for an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.

Campbell led the Patriots with 18 points and Vaughan was the only other player in double figures with 12, as Ohio forced George Mason away from its usual reliance on forward Will Thomas. Thomas scored nine points and snared nine rebounds but was held to just six shots, his third-lowest total of the season

"Obviously that's the difference in our team," Coach Jim Larranaga said. "If we had gotten Will the ball and he had finished some baskets then we could have stayed in front. . . . [Ohio] kept him off balance, and even when he got a couple of decent shots that he always makes, he missed."

Thomas hadn't been much of a factor in the first half either, attempting only one shot, but the Patriots had still been able to find scoring from five other players while their defense forced Ohio to go 8 of 29 from the field.

Ohio opened the second half with a 20-8 run, led largely by long-range threat Bubba Walther. Walther scorched George Mason with 18 of his team-high 21 points in the second half, including four three-pointers that seemed to demoralize the Patriots with each subsequent shot.

"He really got it going," Larranaga said. "They got him open, and he moved without the ball extremely well. It's more difficult when you're preparing for a nonconference opponent at this time of year, when they have a player who they bring in off the bench who is such an offensive weapon."

Walther wasn't the only Ohio player to cost the Patriots, though, as forwards Jerome Tillman and Leon Williams combined for 17 points in the second half.

"We just didn't come out with enough energy on the defensive end to get enough stops," Thomas said. "We were walking the ball up the court instead of running the ball up like we did in the first half, and they came out with a lot of energy and took the lead."

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