The Patriots Confront a Tribe's Quest
It has been 25 years since Jim Valvano coined the phrase "survive and advance" during his North Carolina State team's miraculous journey to the national championship. These days, it has become a cliche that every coach in every sport uses after any kind of postseason victory.
Sunday, at creaky old Richmond Coliseum, the term was not only apt, it was the only way to explain the manner in which George Mason and William & Mary advanced to Monday's Colonial Athletic Association championship game.
The Patriots made four field goals in the second half -- four-- and still beat UNC Wilmington going away, 53-41, in about as ugly an offensive basketball game as you can possibly imagine. The fifth-seeded Tribe, which appeared on the verge of being blown out by top-seeded Virginia Commonwealth on a number of occasions, got two big-time shots from Laimis Kisielius in the final minute and stunned VCU and its raucous fans, 56-54, to advance to a conference final for the first time in 25 years.
"When you get to this stage in postseason play, you have to be prepared to get punched in the mouth and get up off the floor," said William & Mary Coach Tony Shaver, who has taken more than a few shots during his five seasons at the school. "I thought our guys responded well every time we had to today."
William & Mary is now in the same place where George Mason was a year ago -- except that the Tribe has never been to the NCAA tournament. It has won three games, each in the final seconds, to get to the final. The Patriots arrived here a year ago reeling from a 23-point drubbing at Northeastern that ended their regular season and promptly became Mason circa March 2006 for three nights, before coming up just shy in the final against VCU.
Entering this year's event, William & Mary had lost six of its last seven games and was lucky to escape Friday against 12th-seeded Georgia State.
"Postseason is like a fresh start," said Kisielius, a Lithuanian who played two years of prep ball in Charlottesville before traveling east to Williamsburg for college. "When you're a senior, you understand that every game can be your last game. You want to play as long as you can."
Mason's key seniors, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, will not end their careers here, regardless of Monday's outcome. But after starting on a Final Four team two years ago, neither of them wants to finish in the NIT. Sunday, Wilmington decided it wasn't going to let Thomas decide the game, double-teaming any time the ball got close to him in the low post.
That created space in the lane for Campbell, who took advantage of it in the second half, constantly drawing fouls as he drove to the basket -- he made 9 of 14 free throws in the last 20 minutes -- and scored 11 of his team's 22 points.
"My shot wasn't dropping, so I had to do something to try to score," he said. "If Will's man had come to help I'd have dropped it to him, but he never did."