CAA Championship Game

Virginia Commonwealth Defeats George Mason Patriots, 71-50, in Colonial Athletic Association Final

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RICHMOND, March 9 -- George Mason reached the Colonial Athletic Association championship game with a blend of sufficient offense, timely late-game shooting and badgering defense.

But on Monday night, with an opportunity to claim a second straight NCAA tournament berth, the second-seeded Patriots received none of those elements. They were dominated by Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders and blown out by top seed Virginia Commonwealth, 71-50, before a capacity crowd of 11,200 at Richmond Coliseum.

"We were never in it," George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said.

While the Rams (24-9) fulfilled preseason expectations with their second NCAA tournament berth in three years, the Patriots (22-10) are likely headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

Maynor, the two-time CAA player of the year, was named the tournament's most outstanding player after finishing with 25 points and eight assists. Sanders, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, had 18 points, 20 rebounds and 7 blocked shots as VCU defeated the Patriots in the title game for the third time in six seasons.

Senior guard Dre Smith, who had five three-pointers and 23 points, was the only George Mason player to make more than two field goals. The Patriots shot a season-worst 30.5 percent and had their third-lowest point total.

With Sanders patrolling the lane, starting forwards Darryl Monroe and Louis Birdsong combined to shoot 1 for 9 and reserves Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison were 4 for 11.

"They just beat us all night for 40 minutes," Patriots guard John Vaughan said. "Larry Sanders set the tone from the beginning and got them going."

Sanders's rebounding total set a tournament record, and his blocked shots tied another.

The Rams surged to a 13-point lead in the first half, thanks in large part to Maynor, who had 14 points and four assists. With a 30-19 lead at intermission, VCU started the second half with seven straight points, built the lead to 23 and, other than Smith's three-point shooting, had little to worry about.

"We missed some golden opportunities [early in the game] and then we became our own worst enemy," Larranaga said. "We got very, very discouraged, and that really shouldn't happen. The game has its swings and momentum, and we never got ourselves in position by just being more aggressive and more confident in our play. We became more and more tentative as the game wore on."

George Mason found itself in deep trouble from the start. VCU's fluid ball movement and Maynor's penetration created clear shots, and at the other end, the Patriots missed six of their first seven attempts. Maynor made an early impression with his distribution, and after George Mason settled down, he scored from all distances and in all manners.

"Even when you try to stop him, he finds another way," Patriots guard Cam Long said. "How he goes, the team goes, and he was going very well tonight."

Maynor began his scoring spree with a steal and breakaway layup, followed with one of his trademark floaters and then stepped back for a three-pointer, giving the Rams a nine-point lead. Maynor swished another three and then set up Bradford Burgess from the same distance. On VCU's first 10 baskets, Maynor scored or assisted on eight.

He wasn't done. After the Patriots missed three straight layups (six in the half), Maynor hit for another feathery shot on the run and a one-hander from the other side of the key.

Pearson converted inside to cut the margin to 11 points at halftime, but after shooting 29.6 percent in the opening half, the Patriots were facing bleak comeback chances. The start of the second half punctuated their grim prospects.

"I thought in the second half we would come out more juiced up," Larranaga said. "And instead they did and they took control of the second half as well."

While George Mason missed from near and far, Joey Rodriguez made a three-pointer, Sanders banked in a 15-footer and Kirill Pischalnikov scored inside for a 37-19 lead.

Pearson's free throw after 3 1/2 minutes broke the scoreless rut, but the Patriots committed six turnovers in the first six minutes and didn't make a field goal until Vaughan's three-pointer with 12:55 left.

As the deficit grew -- to 23, the team's largest since the last game of the 2006-07 regular season -- so did the frustration. Morrison, a sometimes overemotional freshman, was pulled from the game for physical play and Vaughan, retaliating to a comment, shoved Ed Nixon.

Smith brought the Patriots to within 56-44, but the Rams converted free throws and Maynor crowned his performance with a sensational fake, drive and layup. All that remained was the court-storming celebration by the VCU student body.

"We had a tremendous desire to be great," VCU Coach Anthony Grant said, "and to do something special."

CAA Notes: Smith began the game with a bandaged nose, the result of being inadvertently elbowed in the final minute of the semifinal, but removed the bandage during the first timeout. X-rays late Sunday showed no fracture. . . . George Mason's 10 title-game appearances in the CAA's 27 seasons are a record. . . . The top seed has won seven of the past eight championships.

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