Contrary to what people say and believe, Richmond is not a one-man team.
While George Mason was preoccupied with containing all-America candidate John Newman, the Spiders' senior guard, Kelvin Johnson, scored a career-high 28 points, including two foul shots with 17 seconds left in overtime, to lift his team to a thrilling, 76-75 ECAC-South victory before 2,257 at the GM Gymnasium.
Newman, the conference's MVP last year, slightly twisted his ankle and got in early foul trouble but still managed 19 points. But the 6-foot-7 junior didn't hurt GM in the final minutes when the Spiders (6-5 overall and 2-1 in the conference) rallied to tie the game and force overtime.
GM, getting a wonderful career-high, 26-point game (12-of-14 field goal shooting) from Brian Miller and 24 points from Carlos Yates, had a chance to win in regulation but Yates' long jumper from the corner was off with two seconds to play.
"Our play just broke down," said GM Coach Joe Harrington. "It didn't work."
Miller said the play was designed for anyone who broke free. The Richmond defense forced the ball into the corner where Yates, covered by two defenders, had to put up a prayer.
Johnson, who said he was surprised at how open he was all night, opened the extra session with a long jumper. Both teams traded baskets until Richmond's Peter Woolfolk (15 points, seven rebounds) made one of two free throws for a 72-71 lead with 1:59 to play.
Yates missed at the other end and Johnson got the loose ball. Woolfolk, who came up with two big shots in the final seconds of regulation, including the tying basket with 28 seconds left, got a nice pass inside and had an open lane to the basket. But Rob Rose seemed to come from nowhere to swat the ball to near midcourt. Richmond's Greg Beckwith chased it down and the visitors had possession with 40 seconds left.
GM had to foul and picked on Newman. He made both shots for a three-point lead.
Miller answered with 17 seconds left to cut the deficit to a point again. After a timeout, the Patriots then fouled Johnson, who made both ends of the one and one for a 76-73 lead.
"I had been struggling with my shooting, but this type of game will help me regain my concidence," said Johnson, a former star at DeMatha. "I was a little hesitant at first to shoot but when the coach saw how open they were leaving me, he told me to shoot. I hit a few and kept shooting."
Johnson's final act for the night was to direct his teammates to stay away as Rose scored a meaningless basket for GM at the buzzer for the final margin.
"Johnson must be homesick," said Harrington. "Every time he comes here, he lights it up. Richmond definitely hurt us inside, too, particularly Woolfolk."
Even Woolfolk was no factor early as the Spiders depended on Newman and Johnson and the Patriots on Yates and Miller. All four shooters delivered and the hosts managed a 34-32 lead at the half.
The second half, Johnson made seven consecutive 20-footers at one point to keep his team close. GM, which led by nine early in the second half, started to lose its poise in the final five minutes when Richmond began going inside. Woolfolk had eight of his team's final 10 points in regulation while the Patriots were missing three foul shots and four shots from the field, and committing a 45-second shot clock violation.
"Woolfolk hit a couple of big baskets for us," said Richmond Coach Dick Tarrant. "With 10 seconds left (in regulation), we just knew we didn't want Yates to get that last shot. We had two men over there and he still got it off. He could shoot over three people. Fortunately, he missed that one and we got a big win here."