It was supposed to be Carlos Yates' night. The 6-foot-5 senior forward was playing his final home game in the George Mason University Fieldhouse, which will be replaced by a new 10,000-seat arena next season, and more than 2,300 had come to watch him possibly surpass his career-high 42-point show of earlier this week.
Yates took it easy, scoring only 21 points. But junior Rob Rose burned North Carolina-Wilmington for a career-high 34 points, 22 in the first half when George Mason built a big lead before cruising to an easy 99-88 victory in the final ECAC South regular-season game for both teams.
The victory, in conjunction with Richmond's defeat of William and Mary, enabled Mason (17-10) to finish third in the conference with a 10-4 record. The Patriots will meet these Seahawks (12-15, 4-10) in a first-round conference tournament game Thursday at William and Mary.
Rose made 13 of 15 shots from the floor and eight of nine from the line, got 11 rebounds and blocked six shots. Ricky Wilson had 10 points and became the third player in the school's history to score more than 1,000 points for a career. Rose reached the mark in his last game. Yates, with 2,382 to date, is the all-time leader.
As well as the Patriots shot the ball (54 percent), for a second straight game it was defense that got them started. A full-court press forced several turnovers and slowed the Seahawks' transition game.
George Mason, which dropped the first game this season to the Seahawks, 66-64, jumped off to a quick start, thanks to Rose and Yates. Yates made four of his first five shots and Rose scored 12 points, including two dunks, in the opening 13 minutes to help the Patriots pull away to a 32-16 lead.
"In the locker room, I was joking about getting 43 points before the game," Rose said. "Once I got it going, I kept shooting. It felt real good. We wanted to have another good effort going into the tournament. Our defense, especially our press, has really picked up. It's been real effective."
UNC-Wilmington did a good job rebounding, picking up a half-dozen offensive rebounds. Center Brian Rowsom (30 points) had 12 points in the first half, but his inside baskets came too far apart as the Seahawks fell farther behind.
George Mason shot the ball very well in the half, Rose in particular. He scored 10 of his team's final 14 points, his last basket coming from the deepest part of the corner with one second left to give the Patriots a 50-34 advantage at intermission.
"Another good first half," George Mason Coach Joe Harrington said. "Rose played a good floor game and had an outstanding night. Vincent McQueen (11 points, five rebounds) also had a good game. It's good we're going into the tournament on a high note."
UNC-Wilmington didn't -- or, better yet, couldn't -- make a run at the Patriots. Yates, Rose and Wilson continued to get easy shots against the Seahawks in the second half. Rose hit three straight jumpers to put Mason up by 65-41 with 14 minutes remaining in the game.