George Mason University registered its most impressive Division I basketball victory ever tonight when it dominated Virginia Commonwealth from start to finish, pulling away to an 81-68 victory in the second game of the Cavalier Invitational.
Virginia easily turned back Fairfield, 107-66, in the opener despite only 13 points by Ralph Sampson. The Cavaliers will meet George Mason at 9:05 Sunday in the finals.
Andre Gaddy, a 6-foot-10 senior from Brooklyn, carried the George Mason attack, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Carlos Yates contributed 21 points and Andy Bolton added 18.
"For us to win a game like this, against a team with a tradition like VCU, well, it's a great boost for our program," said a jubilant Coach Joe Harrington. "I was really pleased with the control we had when we needed it."
The Patriots scored 12 straight points early in the game to take an 18-9 lead and increased their advantage to 24-11 as Gaddy scored eight points.
VCU, which lost to Tennessee by two points in overtime in the NCAA East Regional last spring, pulled within eight (34-26) by halftime.
The closest the Rams came in the second half was 52-48 with nine minutes remaining, but Bolton sank two free throws and John Niehoff made a jumper for George Mason. After a foul shot by the losers, Gaddy's three-point play boosted the Patriots lead back to 59-49 with 6:41 remaining.
"The game got a little sloppy at the end, but that's because they were pressing all over the court," Harrington said. "We've never had to do that before. We're usually the one that has to come from behind."
George Mason was 10-16 last season, while VCU was 24-5 and qualified for the NCAA East Regional, where they extended Tennessee into overtime before losing, 58-56.
In the opening mismatch, Sampson, looking like a man among boys, easily dominated both backboards, grabbing six rebounds and blocking eight shots despite playing only 21 minutes.
"The whole team was playing well, and that gave me a chance to rest for a while," the 7-foot-4 junior said. "This is the type of game that I'm not going to have to play a lot."
Tim Mullen, who scored six points in the first three minutes, led the Cavaliers with 16 points, sinking six of eight attempts in his 21 minutes of play.
Fairfield was the ideal sacrificial lamb for the Cavaliers. The Stags had never met Virginia and were playing their first game under Coach Terry O'Connor.
The Stags have three starters returning from last year's 13-13 team, including both guards, but they lacked the quickness to keep up with the fast-breaking Cavaliers.
After Virginia opened up a 13-0 lead in the first four minutes, there was never any doubt about the outcome. Coach Terry Holland began substituting freely. He took Sampson out of the game for the first time after just five minutes and experimented with different combinations throughout the game.
Othell Wilson, the sophomore from Woodbridge, again did an excellent job of directing the Cavaliers' attack. The 6-foot guard made five of seven shots and tied teammate Jeff Jones for the assist lead with six.
Jones, the only senior on Virginia's squad, was content to set up his teammates and play the type of defense that cut off Fairfield's running game. He took only three shots in his 18 minutes.
"I was really pleased with the way we played defense," Holland said. "We wanted to put some pressure on them at the beginning and play the game at our tempo. I felt we did a good job of doing that."
Mullen, the freshman from Ridgewood, N.J., was the player most people were talking about after the game. His three straight jumpers in the opening minutes set the tone for the rout by establishing Virginia's outside game.
"There is no question that he's a great shooter, and a game like tonight's has got to do a lot for his confidence," Holland said. "He couldn't miss in the first half."