George Mason Defeats Towson, 56-48, to Reach Colonial Athletic Association Tournament Final

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009

RICHMOND, March 8 -- The unlikely shot that secured George Mason's 56-48 victory over Towson in a Colonial Athletic Association semifinal Sunday evening came with 25 seconds left -- a frantic three-point heave by sophomore guard Cam Long as the shot clock expired to provide a six-point lead.

A few thousand delirious green-and-gold supporters, as well as the players on the court and bench, began to celebrate a third consecutive berth in the championship game and a showdown with arch nemesis Virginia Commonwealth, at 7 p.m. Monday at Richmond Coliseum.

But on a day in which the second-seeded Patriots (22-9) sputtered on offense, continued to miss free throws at an alarming rate and came close to letting the game slip away, their defense reemerged to thwart the 11th-seeded Tigers' bid for a third straight upset and stretch the winning streak over Towson to 15 games.

"We just had the will and tenacity to move on," senior guard John Vaughan said. "We didn't want the season to end. No matter how ugly it was, we live to see another day."

Save for Long's late uprising, the offense was ugly. The defense, though, rescued the defending champions for the second straight night by conceding two field goals in the last nine minutes and shutting out Towson (12-22) on its final six possessions.

After making five of their first six shots in the second half, the Tigers were 4 of 22 and finished at 37 percent overall. On Saturday night, during a frustrating offensive performance, the Patriots limited James Madison to 27 percent in the second half.

"Everyone on our team loves to play defense," said guard Dre Smith, who had 13 points before leaving in the final seconds with a bloody nose caused by an inadvertent Towson elbow. "We don't really focus on the offense -- we know the offense is going to come -- but the one thing we know we can do is stop them from scoring."

The defensive effort was vital because, until Long (14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) took charge with his shooting and passing, the Patriots labored on offense. They missed 12 of their first 15 attempts of the second half as the Tigers, the lowest seed to reach the CAA tournament semifinals, built a six-point lead with nine minutes left.

Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga switched to a zone "because we needed to change the tempo a little bit," and with the Tigers finding it more difficult to score, George Mason rallied.

Darryl Monroe (15 points, seven rebounds) made a five-footer -- which, to that point, was the longest successful shot by the Patriots in the half -- and Long hit consecutive three-pointers. After Towson drew even, a pair of clever layups by Smith and a three-pointer by the Tigers' Josh Thornton (15 points) left the Patriots ahead by a point with about four minutes to go.

An apparent go-ahead layup by Towson's Calvin Lee was nullified by a charging foul with 2 minutes 4 seconds left, and Long's penetration led to Louis Birdsong's layup for a three-point edge. Then on the clinching play, Long glanced at the shot clock, dribbled to his right and launched his desperation shot.

"When he released it, I was trying to get into rebound position," Smith said. "Seeing it come down, I was like, 'That is money!' "

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