Erik Herring is probably the most quiet member of the George Mason men's basketball team. It's a trait that in the past he has exhibited on the court, but tonight against Virginia Commonwealth, he was anything but silent.

Herring scored 23 points and added eight assists and seven rebounds as George Mason beat the Rams, 76-63, before a sellout crowd of 7,621 at Alltel Pavilion.

The Patriots (10-8, 5-2 Colonial Athletic Association) have won four straight conference games and are tied for second in the CAA with James Madison. VCU fell to 9-7, 2-3. Both teams are a half-game behind Richmond, which the Patriots visit on Wednesday.

The Patriots were boosted tonight by the return of their leading scorer, junior forward George Evans, who missed Wednesday's loss to Detroit with tendinitis in his left forearm. Evans had 18 points and eight rebounds in 38 minutes, but the key for George Mason was Herring.

For most of this season Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga has been urging Herring to be more assertive in the offense, as the Patriots have been trying to find another scorer to complement Evans. Tonight, Herring made 7 of 8 field goal attempts, including two three-pointers, and was 7 for 11 from the free throw line.

"I think it's all about confidence, and being comfortable with my position," said Herring, who entered the game averaging 14.5 points, second on the team. "It's one thing to have the coaches tell you to be more aggressive. My teammates are always telling me to be more aggressive. They always say they'll do what they can to get me going early, and that means a lot to me."

George Mason finished the game with a 24-14 run in the final 5 minutes 18 seconds, as the Patriots shook off a Rams' rally that came midway through the second half. Herring keyed the run, making two free throws to extend George Mason's lead to 54-49, then hitting a three-pointer at 3:51 to make it 59-49.

"I think he's been [assertive] for a long time," Larranaga said. "He's had one or two games where he may not have been too aggressive. But he knows this is make or break for us. This was the start of a stretch of four out of five games on the road, and I think he wanted to help us out of the gate here."

RICHMOND 78, AMERICAN 63: Junior forward Greg Stevenson had 31 points and 16 rebounds at Robins Center. The loss was the Eagles' eighth in its past 10 games. Richmond (10-7 overall) improved to 5-1 in league play.

American (7-10, 2-4) trailed for nearly the entire the game, although after falling behind by 13 points at halftime, it got within three midway through the second half. Junior guard Ronald Hearns led the Eagles' comeback, scoring eight points during a 19-9 run to open the half. Jarion Childs, a senior guard, made a pull-up jumper with 12 minutes 54 seconds remaining to cut Richmond's lead to 45-42.

But American got no closer. Richmond responded with a 14-2 run, and gradually extended the lead from that point.

Hearns led American with 22 points, including six three-pointers, but the Eagles were hurt by their inability to get the ball inside to their leading scorer, 6-foot-9 Patrick Doctor. The sophomore forward scored 15 points, but only four during the first half during which Richmond outscored the Eagles, 36-23. Doctor came into the game averaging a team-high 14.3 points.