George Mason accepted a bid last night to play in the National Invitation Tournament and will play its first-round game in the 32-team tournament Thursday night in Beaumont, Tex., against Lamar

This is the first postseason appearance for the Patriots in the eight seasons they have played in Division I. George Mason (19-11) was runner-up in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, beating Richmond in the semifinals before losing to Navy in the championship game, 72-61. Richmond and Navy were selected yesterday for the NCAA tournament.

"I'm very excited for the entire program," Patriots Coach Joe Harrington said. "It's a big step forward and shows how far we've come. The players, most of whom I've talked to already, are very excited."

Lamar (18-11) lost to Louisiana Tech, 60-58, in the first round of the Southland Conference tournament last week. It is one of three Southland teams in the field.

The NIT begins Tuesday as Texas Christian plays at Montana, with three more games Wednesday, 11 on Thursday and one game Friday. UCLA (15-13), which is trying to become the first team in more than 40 years to repeat as champion, plays its first-round game at home against California-Irvine.

Dayton (19-8) and Marquette (18-10), independents who missed an NCAA at-large berth, accepted NIT bids. Pittsburgh and Providence represent the Big East and Clemson the ACC. Four Southwest Conference teams were named.

Second-round games will be at regional sites March 16-17, followed by the quarterfinals at regional sites March 20-21. The regional sites are determined after the previous round of games is complete. The semifinals and final will be held March 24 and 26 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"I was confident about getting an invitation because I thought we deserved one," said Harrington, whose team had won seven in a row and 10 of 11 before the loss to Navy. "We played very well in February and March. We were 11-10 at one point and finished 19-11, which is quite a turnaround."