George Mason upgraded its schedule this year to play such teams as Louisville, St. John's and Michigan State. Unfortunately for the Patriots they also had to play East Tennessee State -- twice.

Last night's home opener at Patriot Center saw 24th-ranked East Tennessee State survive an exceptional effort by George Mason and score a 96-86 victory before 4,602.

The Buccaneers (7-1) won the season's first meeting with Mason in a much easier 105-92 game at home. Now with their third straight loss, the Patriots fell to 2-4.

Early in the second half, George Mason appeared on the verge of scoring an upset as the Patriots built a 55-46 lead and forced two Buccaneers timeouts.

A three-pointer by Alvin West closed the Buccaneers' deficit to 64-63 and after Byron Tucker (28 points, 14 rebounds) scored for Mason, Keith Jennings (29 points) tied the game at 66 with a three-pointer.

With the score tied at 75, Jennings made another three-pointer to give the Buccaneers the lead for good. Later, Calvin Talford's three-pointer moved the advantage to 83-77.

Still George Mason had hope after Mike Hargett (26 points) sank a three-point jumper to make it 83-82.

But East Tennessee pulled away when Talford, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, made three of four free throws following a personal foul and a technical foul.

The personal foul was on Paul Arthur and the technical foul on Jamel Perkins, who played a strong game at guard but was cited for profanity.

"That type of call is absolutely ridiculous," George Mason Coach Ernie Nestor said. "The foul wasn't on Jamel and he was off the ball 20 feet. It's kind of far-fetched in my mind. Not to diminish East Tennessee's win, but let the players decide the game."

George Mason wasn't able to recover as the Buccaneers, on their next possession, got a layup from Talford to build a 90-84 lead.

"It's a whole different game when you come down one time tied and the next time down six," Nestor said. "At that point it's a long-range game and you have to do extraordinary things to get back in the game."

The Patriots played the final 13 minutes without leading scorer and rebounder Robert Dykes (17 points, five rebounds). He picked up his fourth foul with 13:34 remaining, was sent to the bench and, soon after returning to the court, fouled out with eight minutes left.