Kenny Sanders is used to playing against much taller opponents. Thus when Virginia Commonwealth sent out its starting front line of 6-foot-10 Martin Henlan, 6-8 Phil Stinnie and 6-7 John Thompson last night, the 6-4 Sanders never flinched.
Sanders outslicked his foes for 24 points and 18 rebounds, and his effort, combined with a horrid shooting performance by VCU, enabled George Mason to earn a 67-60 triumph before 2,730 at the Patriot Center.
Winner of its last six games, George Mason (13-6) trailed 1-0 when Sanders scored inside to give his team a lead it would not relinguish. With Sanders and 6-7 Robert Dykes (14 points on six-for-six field goal shooting and 10 rebounds) doing yeoman work against the stronger Rams (13-5), Brian Miller (10 points) hitting clutch baskets early and Steve Smith (12 points, nine rebounds, four assists) contributing off the bench, George Mason led by as many as 19 points midway through the second half.
"I had a flashback of last year when we went to VCU and they beat up on us pretty bad," Sanders said. "I made up my mind I was going to grab every rebound I could. I don't think about size."
VCU, which had a nine-rebound margin over its foes before last night, totaled four more rebounds than the Patriots. A number of the Rams' total of 41 came off the offensive boards but they got only 17 points off second and third chances.
VCU shot 28 percent from the field (23 of 82), made six of 28 from the three-point range, to George Mason's 49 percent (22 of 45). VCU guard Lionel Bacon made only four of 15 shots while fellow guard Chris Cheeks, formerly of Wilson High Schol (D.C.), sank three of 18.
The Patriots made only four of 18 three-pointers and committed 22 turnovers, but that was offset by their shooting from the field and the free throw line (19 of 25).
Stinnie was VCU's offense last night, finishing with 27 points, 17 in the second half. George Mason led, 47-28, with just over 11 minutes left, before the Rams made their one big run. Stinnie poured in 14 of his team's next 21 points, including a driving bank shot to cut the Patriots lead to 58-50, with four minutes left.
Sanders got inside for a three-point play to increase the lead to 11. VCU closed to seven, getting baskets from Thompson and Bacon, with 2:14 left.
Dykes and Smith each sank a pair of shots from the line between VCU misses. Sanders got free for a layup and GMU's lead was 13, 67-54, with 55 seconds to play.