George Mason had all the incentive it needed -- a crowd of 6,850, a chance to take a two-game lead in the tight Colonial Athletic Conference race, a chance to win its 10th straight game and a good shot that possibly could have won the game. But it was not to be.
George Mason just couldn't make the shots, could not stop Richmond's Peter Woolfolk when it counted most, and suffered a disappointing 62-60 defeat to the Spiders at the Patriot Center.
The Patriots (16-7) dropped into a tie for first place with Richmond, both teams now 7-3 with four conference games remaining. Richmond, which lost back-to-back games to Navy and American, raised its overall mark to 17-5.
Richmond's Peter Woolfolk, a shorter look-alike to Philadelphia 76ers' Charles Barkley, led all scorers with 22 points, including a big six-foot turnaround bank shot with 36 seconds to play.
Ironically, the 6-foot-5 Woolfolk had been rather quiet since scoring his team's first 11 points of the second half. And with just over five minutes to play in the game, George Mason looked as if it was about to take control of the close contest when Kenny Sanders (18 points, 14 rebounds) sank a pair of free throws and Danny Deane threw in a short, off-balanced shot for a 56-51 lead.
But as it did for the remaining 3 1/2 minutes of the first half, George Mason went scoreless again, this time for 4 1/2 minutes, more than enough time for the Spiders to regroup and come rushing back.
Rodney Rice (11 points) and Ken Atkinson made back-to-back three-pointers and suddenly the Spiders led, 57-56, with 4:17 to play.
In between Patriot misses, Scott Stapleton (nine points, nine rebounds) made one of two free throws to make it 58-56, with 2:49 remaining.
"I thought we shot too much from the outside, we didn't try to work the ball inside," George Mason Coach Rick Barnes said. "We just didn't take our time."
Brian Miller, the Patriots' designated three-point artist, missed a 22-footer from the corner and the Spiders came away with the loose ball. But Amp Davis forced Atkinson into a turnover, giving the hosts another big chance.
Robert Dykes got free inside but missed an open layup. But Sanders came up the loose ball and was fouled. The junior forward made both shots to tie the game at 58-58, with 55 seconds to play.
Richmond then went to its big play man and Woolfolk delivered.
After Steve Smith lost the ball and regained it within seconds, Davis' three-point shot missed. The ball bounced off Sanders out of bounds. They then fouled Mike Winiecki, a 71 percent free throw shooter. He sank both shots for a 62-58 lead with 10 seconds left.
Davis made a 15-footer with four seconds left to cut the deficit to two. Stapleton missed the front end of the one-and-one situation and George Mason had two seconds to pull out a miracle.
A long pass went to Miller, who tossed up a desperation hook that fell through the net after the buzzer had sounded.
"We played with poise and patience at the end," Richmond Coach Dick Tarrant said. "We played good, fast break defense to stop their transition. We wanted the game to stay in the 60s. It was a very rewarding win. We made a high percentage of our shots (23 of 49)."
Richmond shot very well in the first half (58 per cent). Going strictly to Woolfolk and Steve Kratzer (seven points), the Spiders were able to get the shots they wanted.
A quick-reacting zone defense limited the hosts to the three-point shot so Sanders' presence inside became even more important.
Sanders, the leading scorer and rebounder in the conference, got free early, scoring nine quick points, his half-hook giving George Mason a 17-16 lead.
The teams exchanged baskets until Richmond staged a mini-run to take its biggest lead of the first half. Stapleton's driving layup tied the game at 22 before Woolfolk scored inside and Rice drilled a three-pointer for a 29-22 advantage.
Barnes called a quick timeout and what advice he gave his players seemed to work for a while anyway. Dykes got his bank shot over Kratzer who fouled the Patriots center. The free throw was perfect also, to cut the Spider lead to 29-25.
Richmond, which got 17 points from its inside duo of Woolfolk and Kratzer, maintained a lead until Miller, who had six three-pointers among his 22-point effort Thursday night in a 112-91 win over UMBC, made one of his two three-pointers to cut Richmond's lead to 34-32.
Darren Satterthwaite tied the game at 34 with a pair of free throws with 3:32 to play.
Richmond quickly regained the lead, 37-34, on Rice's second three-pointer of the night with 3:14 left.
That was it as far as scoring was concerned in the half. Both teams missed numerous shots and committed turnovers trying to make a late run.
Richmond missed five shots, including an open dunk by Kratzer, and George Mason misfired on four attempts.
"I really didn't think we were in the flow of the game," Barnes said. "Richmond played well, especially inside. But we're still in first place and we have four games to play."