It took George Mason Coach Rick Barnes exactly eight words to summarize his team's game against North Carolina-Wilmington last night at Patriot Center.
"We had it won and we lost it."
With 14:52 to play, the Patriots led by 12 points. With 9:15 to play, they led by eight. However, the Pariots made just one of their final 15 field goal attempts and when the game ended, they were down by three, 69-66.
The victory was the Seahawks' first on the road this season after five losses. Six-foot-8 junior center Larry Houzer, a junior college transfer from Jefferson State (Ala.), led the way with 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots -- two on Sanders in the game's final five minutes.
Sanders, a senior forward who entered the contest leading the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring with an average of 24.5 points per game, scored just seven points on two-for-13 field goal shooting -- he had two points on zero-for-four shooting in the second half. It was the first time in 56 games he had failed to score in double figures. In addition, after Sanders' lane violation while Mark Gary was missing the front end of a one-and-one with 26 seconds left, Gary made two free throws that gave the Seahawks their final margin of victory.
Barnes refused to make excuses for Sanders, who declined to comment after the game. However, Barnes did say, "He's entitled to have a bad game; he's had a great season so far. But he's going to have to realize that he's going have to work that much harder to get open. He's our inside game. When he struggled, they were able to extend their defense, and those extra two feet make a difference."
After trailing, 54-42, with 14:52 to play, the Seahawks made a 10-1 run that pulled them to within 55-52 with 11:03 remaining and forced George Mason to take a timeout.
The Patriots appeared to have regrouped when Darin Satterthwaite's three-pointer and a pair of free throws by Steve Smith gave them a 60-52 lead with 9:15 to play. However, during the next seven minutes the Patriots missed nine straight field goal attempts -- five of which were long jumpers, two of them the shots by Sanders that Houzer blocked.
Meantime, after Houzer's miss with about nine minutes left, UNCW made seven of its next eight shots, taking a 61-60 lead on Antonio Howard's three-point play with 6:05 left.
Mason led at 66-65 on Amp Davis' three-pointer with 2:27 to go, but after Howard's jumper 30 seconds later, George Mason missed five more shots in a row -- three from three-point territory. The Seahawks won despite missing the front ends of three one-and-ones in the last minute. WILMINGTON Min FG FT R A PF T Walker 26 2-6 2-2 3 0 1 6 Bender 36 4-8 1-3 1 0 2 10 Houzer 37 8-10 6-6 11 0
Three-point goals: Wilm. 1-7 (Bender 1-3, Houzer 0-1, Williams 0-2, Gray 0-1); George Mason 8-21 (Sanders 0