The end of George Mason's best basketball season was not dramatic, not exciting. But it is over.
The Providence Friars used their deeper bench to outhustle, outrebound and outshoot the Patriots and win going away, 90-71, in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament in front of 7,516 fans at Providence Civic Center.
"I felt we didn't play our best game," said Mason Coach Joe Harrington, "but Providence College had a lot to do with that."
Indeed, the Friars, who had nine players play more than 17 minutes, used a sticky full-court press, a scrambling half-court defense and a 48-36 advantage on the boards to end the Patriots' season at 20-11. Providence, the only Big East team alive in postseason play, is 17-13.
George Mason made just 21 of 59 (36 percent) from the floor, and was consistently inconsistent, hitting 32 percent in the first half and 39 in the second.
"That was the best defensive game of the season for us," said Providence Coach Rick Pitino.
"We never got in sync offensively," said Ricky Wilson, a Patriots guard who was one of seven from the floor and had 10 points. "We had no continuity. We were using seven players and they were going with nine or 10 and it eventually wore us down."
The stretch that did it came about three minutes into the second half, when Providence went on a 16-6 run, never to be threatened thereafter as it moved on the quarterfinals in quest of the title it won in 1961 and 1963.
Pitino said the rebounding edge was the key.
"This was a tough team for us to play, athletically," Pitino said. "So I told them that if they can't match them on the boards, it will be a long night.
"Usually at halftime I go over some of the stats, but I couldn't this time. Dave Kipfer had nine rebounds, Steve Wright had four. They were doing fine. So I lied to them and told them they were getting annihilated on the boards."
Kipfer, at 6 feet 7, 215 pounds, finished with a team-high 19 points, and 13 rebounds, eight on the offensive end. Wright furnished a game-high 15 rebounds, and was one of three Friars with 10 points. Reserve guards Don Brown and Harold Starks had 18 and 16 points, respectively, with Starks hitting some key ones in the second half.
Rob Rose, who led the Patriots with 23 points, cut the Friars' 38-32 halftime lead by two with a field goal to begin the second half.
Wilson made two free throws to cut the Providence lead to 42-37 with 17:18 left. But again the Friars tightened their pressure defense and the Patriots just plain got tight.
"Initially the pressure in the back court took us out of our offense," Harrington said. "Then we got in a faster pace and we took quick shots, which really got us out of it. We didn't have patience."
Wright started the decisive run by making a three-point play, with 17:03 left, and then Starks did the same on an off-balance left-handed layup. After he made the free throw, he stole the inbounds pass, which he turned into two more. Kenny Sanders (who scored 14 points on five-of-16 shooting) and Tracy Battle interrupted the run with a basket each, but Jack Duda and Starks responded with field goals for the Friars.
Rose made two free throws with 12:54 left, to make it 54-43.
But Kipfer scored and then Mason couldn't inbounds within five seconds because of the press. Providence took possession and Starks made a layup -- he had nine points in the 16-6 stretch -- for a 58-43 lead with 12:23 left.
"If Harold Starks doesn't come back from a hand injury and play with his old reckless abandon, we don't win tonight," said Pitino, who spoke similarly about a number of factors.
From there, the Patriots made little headway. When Starks made another steal and went in on alone on a layup, Providence had its first 17-point lead, 79-62. The final margin was the biggest.