George Mason basketball falls to N.C. State, 78-65, at Charleston Classic

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 10:49 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- George Mason played as a cohesive unit while rallying from a seven-point halftime deficit against North Carolina State in the Charleston Classic.

But instead of sticking to the plan, the Patriots veered from it, initiated one-on-one battles and took low-percentage shots. The result wasn't pretty. A two-point lead quickly turned into a 10-point deficit, and eventually a 78-65 defeat in the tournament semifinals Friday at Carolina First Arena.

"We got a little selfish," said senior Cam Long, who scored a team-high 16 points. "In the moment, everybody wants to get their shots. And that's what it came down to. We started to put ourselves in a position where we just let ourselves go. We started not sharing the ball with each other. We played right into the hands of N.C. State."

The Wolfpack (3-0) advanced to face Georgetown (4-0) for the championship on Sunday, while the Patriots (2-1) will face Wofford (1-3) in the third-place game.

Vertrail Vaughns sank a three pointer with 10 minutes 33 seconds remaining to give George Mason a 59-57 lead. It was their biggest advantage of the second half. It also marked the beginning of the end of their stay in the winner's bracket.

The Patriots missed their next six shots, three of which were rushed from behind the three-point arc. They also committed three turnovers during a wretched four-minute span.

By the time Mason's Bryon Allen knocked down a jumper to trim the lead to 69-61 with 6:29 remaining, it was too late. Any hope local hoops fans had of seeing George Mason and Georgetown square off for the title had been dashed.

"It was us," Coach Jim Larranaga said. "We created the opportunities for them. We took what I would say were very challenging shots. And we took them right in a row. That was the opposite of what we should have been doing."

"That," he added, "was clearly the turning point."

North Carolina State was without starter Tracy Smith, who was ruled out Thursday for the remainder of the tournament. The 6-foot-8 forward returned to Raleigh to have his left knee evaluated by team doctors.

Smith's absence, though, did not appear to hamper the Wolfpack. Five players scored in double figures - an effort led by guard Ryan Harrow (14 points) and forward Richard Howell (13) - and the team amassed 18 assists to the Patriots' nine.

"That's what this team is capable of doing," Wolfpack Coach Sidney Lowe said. "When we're playing the right way, we're unselfish."

In other words, it was exactly what George Mason was not.

"We kind of got frustrated with each other," said sophomore Ryan Pearson, who was limited to six minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. "Instead of pulling together we just went on our own and played individually."

The most upsetting part for Long was that the Patriots put themselves in position to upset an ACC opponent only to unravel.

"A lot of times when you lose, it's not based on talent," Long said. "It's mainly based on beating yourself. Don't get me wrong, N.C. State is a great team but it came down to our mistakes and us forcing the issue."

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