George Mason vs. VCU: Patriots lose in CAA semis, 79-63

VCU's Brandon Rozzell sinks a three-pointer in the first half against Vertrail Vaughns (11) and George Mason, which is 26-6 but not assured an NCAA bid.
VCU's Brandon Rozzell sinks a three-pointer in the first half against Vertrail Vaughns (11) and George Mason, which is 26-6 but not assured an NCAA bid. (John Mcdonnell)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011

RICHMOND - For the next seven days, the George Mason Patriots will watch other conferences crown their champions and they'll survey the growing list of NCAA tournament qualifiers. They'll weigh their striking body of work - underscored by a 16-game winning streak and the regular season title in a quality league - and try to calculate where they fit into the 68-team puzzle.

But as a consequence of a 79-63 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals Sunday at Richmond Coliseum, the Patriots aren't guaranteed anything.

And although 26 victories and high regard nationwide seem to have left little doubt about their NCAA at-large prospects, that ever-so-slight element of uncertainty will vex them until their name is called next Sunday.

After losing to the Rams in the league tournament for the third consecutive year, the Patriots stated their case.

"At this point, there is no impulse buying; it's the entire year," George Mason Athletic Director Tom O'Connor said of an NCAA tournament selection committee that he chaired in 2008. "One loss, one win does not get you in or out. People have seen us play - we're good."

The top-seeded Patriots (26-6) weren't very good against No. 4 VCU (23-10) in suffering their worst defeat of the season. It wasn't the last impression George Mason wanted to leave before Selection Sunday, but, Coach Jim Larranaga pointed out, it shouldn't detract from the total package.

"I don't like hypotheticals, but if I were on the committee I would vote for us to be in," he said. "The bubble is like a hot-air balloon right now. On TV, the bubble goes to like 86 on the RPI [the mathematical formula used to evaluate teams' strengths]. So if those teams are on the bubble and our RPI is in the twenties, I think we are sitting in pretty good shape."

The loss to the Rams was no disgrace. VCU was atop the league until hitting a late-season slide and, as usual, has benefited from playing in the CAA tournament about a mile from campus. In Monday's final, the Rams will face second-seeded Old Dominion, which defeated No. 3 Hofstra, 77-69.

Jamie Skeen, a power forward whose buzzer-beater defeated Drexel in the quarterfinals, made four three-pointers and finished with 21 points. Bradford Burgess (16 points, 13 rebounds) made three threes as the Rams handed the Patriots their first loss since a visit to ODU two months ago.

Cam Long had 20 points for George Mason, which made just 6 of 25 three-pointers and 5 of 13 free throws. Except for two spurts, the Patriots were never comfortable in their offense and labored to solve VCU's variety of defenses.

"It was a little bit of a different look because we haven't played a defensive team like that all year," Patriots forward Ryan Pearson said.

Said Larranaga, "We shot it too quickly, we shot it without sharing."

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