By the time George Mason had fallen behind by 17 points on its home court last night, Coach Rick Barnes knew this was pretty much out of his hands. He told his players he wouldn't be screaming and hollering all night, and that if they didn't want to win their regular-season home finale, they'd better get it straightened out themselves.

With that, Barnes becane relatively quiet and the Patriots responded with an 18-2 run to take an 85-72 victory over Navy in a Colonial Athletic Association game at Patriot Center.

The Patriots don't need Barnes or anybody else to tell them that the best thing they can do, offensively, is get the ball to forward Kenny Sanders, the league's leading scorer. In the opening 12 minutes, Sanders had only two points as Navy, behind the three-point shooting of guard Joe Gottschalk, ran away with a 29-12 lead.

Thereafter, Sanders got heavily involved. He scored 15 of his 17 first-half points in the remaining eight minutes of the first half, getting George Mason (18-9, 9-5 in the CAA) within 39-30 at halftime.

Sanders, along with swingman Steve Smith played a major role in the 18-2 barrage that began with seven minutes left. Trailing, 65-61, Smith got Mason started by scoring six straight points. Sanders had an inside basket and several strong rebounds, which all coincided with Navy scoring only two points in 6 1/2 minutes. The four-point lead turned into a 79-69 deficit.

Sanders hit 12 of 18 shots and finished the game with 31 points and 14 rebounds, both game-high totals. "I didn't come in planning to score a lot of points," Sanders said. "I wanted to get as many rebounds as possible and have the three seniors do most of the scoring. But they were too anxious, too tight. It all backfired early. It was kind of an embarrassment at halftime {to have been down by as many as 17}."

Gottschalk, the freshman who returned to the lineup after missing six games with a broken thumb, surprised even his own Navy coaches by scoring 14 of his team-high 21 points in the first half.

Cliff Rees had 13 points and six rebounds for Navy (12-15, 6-8), which shot 53 percent the first half, but only 39 percent in the second half.

Besides Sanders' all-important contributions, George Mason got 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds from point guard Anthony (Amp) Davis, who along with guard Darin Satterthwaite and forward Brian Miller, was playing in his final home game. Miller had 14 points, including a critical offensive rebound basket and foul shot that put the Patriots ahead, 76-67, with 2:56 left in the game.

The victory didn't improve Mason's standing in the CAA; they go into next week's league tournament as the third-seeded team. But it did show the team it could come back from a large deficit at a crucial point in the season. And it won't hurt the Patriots' push for an NIT bid.

Barnes said he didn't feel there was anything especially risky about going quiet on his team. "I stopped talking to them and let them play," he said. "A couple of times I asked Brian, 'What defense do you want to play?' There was nothing I could say. Sometimes, players just have to work it out themselves."

One thing the Patriots finally worked out was getting a hand in Gottschalk's face. "Early, we kept trying to switch {players} on Navy's screens and he kept getting open," Smith said. "But coach told us to try and slide through the screens and that way we were able to stay up on him."

Gottschalk got off only one three-pointer during Mason's 18-2 run, and missed that. Center Byron Hopkins couldn't hold onto a couple of good passes inside that could have resulted in layups, and the Patriots camped out at the foul line.

George Mason made 23 of 30 foul shots while Navy made 13 of 21. That edge wasn't lost on Navy Coach Pete Herrmann, who made enough noise for Barnes and himself.

A technical foul assessed to Barnes with 13 minutes to play -- Anthony Davis hit the two technical foul shots -- enabled George Mason to tie, 50-50. Herrmann let the officials know what he thought after the game, too, though he wasn't blaming his team's loss on their calls.

Herrmann said he felt that Navy was getting called for far too many touch and lean fouls away from the ball, while the officials let heavy contact go inside.

But Herrmann was the first to say that "Sanders was really tough." A victory would have given Navy a win over every team in the league. Now, the Midshipmen, with Gottschalk and forward Derric Turner back from injuries, have a chance to take their entire team into the tournament for a first-round match with North Carolina-Wilmington.