Brian Miller burned surging James Madison University for a career-high 33 points, including three free throws in the final 19 seconds, to give George Mason University a dramatic 79-76 Colonial Athletic Association victory before 3,750 yesterday at Patriot Center.

The victory enabled George Mason (17-8, 8-4 in the CAA) to remain in contention for the regular season conference title, just a half-game behind 8-3 Richmond, which played East Carolina last night. Mason has two remaining conference games, at American Wednesday and at home against Navy March 1.

Kenny Sanders, the CAA's leading scorer and rebounder and a key in helping the Patriots to a 39-38 halftime lead, was held out the first 9 1/2 minutes of the second half because of what Coach Rick Barnes termed a "little disagreement."

"I've told the guys we need to work on our attitudes and I got a little upset at Kenny during halftime and I sat him down," Barnes said. "Nothing serious; I had planned to let him sit only 10 minutes."

Sanders, a junior forward, came in about the right time. The Patriots were getting in deep foul trouble -- two players eventually fouled out and two others had four fouls -- and Sanders' presence was welcome.

When Sanders came in, George Mason was leading, 58-56. His presence improved his teammates' play and stopped the Dukes (8-17, 3-9) from getting second and third shots that had kept them close. As it was, James Madison outrebounded George Mason, 39-38.

Sanders, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, scored nine quick points and Miller, who scored only one basket in an 18-point loss at William and Mary Thursday night, sank his seventh and eighth three-pointers (on 13 attempts). The last one put the Patriots up, 75-66, with just over three minutes remaining.

But Madison, a 20-point loser to George Mason in January, rallied, getting a three-pointer from Keith McMillan, a three-point play by Anthony Cooley and a layup by Ben Gordon (20 points), cutting the Mason lead to 76-74 with 29 seconds left after he stole an inbounds pass.

Miller than made one of two free throws for a 77-74 advantage with 19 seconds left.

"I didn't follow through on those {two earlier misses} but I felt good shooting the ball," Miller said.

James Madison got three shots on its ensuing possession, Robert Griffith finally converting a layup to make it a one-point game with three seconds left.

Miller was fouled immediately and sank two more free throws with two seconds to play. Gordon's wild hook shoot from three-quarter court had no chance.

"If you look at the stats, you don't expect them to shoot that well," Barnes said. "But they stayed with us and did a good job on the boards. We tried to run; we always want a game in the 90s."