George Mason, in a position to record its biggest win of the year, watched its hopes of upsetting Richmond vanish after Greg Beckwith stole the ball from Rob Rose and then scored with six seconds left to assure the Spiders a 62-59 Colonial Athletic Association victory last night before 3,104 at Patriot Center.
George Mason, down by one point, had a chance to take the lead when Richmond's John Davis turned the ball over with 10 seconds left on a five-second in-bounds violation.
But, after fielding Brian Miller's deep lob near midcourt, Rose had the ball stripped away by Beckwith. Rodney Rice picked up the loose ball and fed Beckwith for the basket, which raised Richmond's record to 13-1, 4-0 in the CAA.
"When (Rose) dribbled to his left, I just reached around and tapped the ball," said Beckwith. "I thought for sure the referee would call a foul."
"I thought I heard a whistle," said Patriots Coach Joe Harrington. "But I guess I didn't."
George Mason, which has lost three of its last four meetings with Richmond, fell to 8-8, 2-2. Harrington was not encouraged by his team's performance against the conference coleader, despite the narrow outcome. "I definitely didn't think this was a moral victory," he said. "I think we're just as good as Richmond. Either team could have won."
After leading for most of the game, including a six-point advantage with 10:51 to play, George Mason scuttled its chances with poor free-throw shooting down the stretch. Ricky Wilson made only two of six attempts in the final 6:33, and Kenny Sanders sank one of two with 11 seconds left and his team in a position to tie the score.
But the Patriots' inability to stop Richmond forward John Newman may have made the outcome a foregone conclusion. Newman scored a game-high 25 points, making this the 39th straight game in which he has reached double figures, and his jumper with 36 seconds to play (and three on the shot clock) proved to be the winning basket.
"The guys did a great job screening for me," said Newman, who led all players with eight rebounds. "I could have kept pulling up for those jumpers all day."
Newman scored eight of his points in the last five minutes, twice putting the Spiders ahead.
Sanders came off the bench to lead George Mason with 20 points, including five in the last 3:36, and Wilson added 17. Yet Rose, who leads the Patriots with a 16.9 scoring average, was largely ineffectual. The 6-foot-6 senior finished with only eight points and attempted only one shot in the game's first 13:20.
Mason started slowly, missing four of its first five shots and scoring just once from the field through the first 4:12. But eight straight points from Sanders propelled the Patriots into a 17-15 lead with 7:28 left, a lead Mason would not relinquish for the next 23 minutes.
Last-second baskets by Earl Moore and Wilson put the Patriots up, 29-25, at intermission.