Guard John Niehoff didn't score a point until five seconds were left in the game, then he made two foul shots that enabled George Mason University to beat East Carolina, 69-68, last night in Fairfax.
"I'm usually a fairly good foul shooter," said Niehoff, a 5-foot-10 junior from Lee High School. "I was fairly confident it would go in."
The victory was the third in a row for the Patriots (6-2), but they had to withstand a furious second-half rally by East Carolina (4-4). It was the ECAC Southern Division opener for both teams.
George Mason went ahead, 38-25, two minutes into the second half on a fast break started by Carlos Yates (20 points). He passed across court to Rob Rose, who passed back across to Andy Bolden, who scored.
Guard Bruce Peartree of East Carolina and forward Barry Wright then found the range from outside, cutting the deficit to 48-47 over the next eight minutes.
George Mason went into a four-corner offense after taking a 59-54 lead on baskets by Rose and Ricky Dillard with about three minutes left.
Patriots Coach Joe Harrington said, "We wanted to get into a one-and-one situation, and we only had five fouls, so we decided to stall."
The strategy worked as Bolden and Yates picked up quick fouls and made all four foul shots to put the Patriots up, 63-58, with 1:27 remaining. Charles Green pulled the Pirates back into the game with three lay-ins, and Johnny Edwards (17 points) made an eight-foot jumper to make it 67-66 with 12 seconds to play.
The Pirates kept it close with aggressive defense and by fouling quickly. After Edwards narrowed the score to one, Green was called for reaching in on Niehoff to set up the winning foul shots.
George Mason made 27 of 33 foul shots; East Carolina made eight of 15. The Patriots made 50 percent from the field, ECU 51 percent.