VCU 68,

George Mason Men 56

After squandering big second-half leads in its previous two games, Virginia Commonwealth learned how to hold on with a 68-56 victory over George Mason at Patriot Center last night.

Helping the Rams was a lackluster effort from the Patriots, who played too sloppily to mount a serious comeback.

"I don't know if we ever gave enough of an effort to be tired," George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said. "I do know we can play a lot better than this."

The loss prevented the Patriots (8-6, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association) from separating themselves from a logjam in the CAA standings, with six of the league's 10 teams separated by one game or less.

That list includes the Rams (8-5, 3-2), who recovered from losing a 12-point lead against Drexel and a nine-point lead against Delaware in the past week.

VCU Coach Jeff Capel recognized that small forward Jon Larranaga has been the key to the Patriots' offense, leading the team in assists with 4.6 per game as well as averaging 12.2 points, second best on the team. He finished with eight points on 3-for-11 shooting and eight assists against four turnovers, numbers Capel found more than adequate.

"The most important thing was the job we did on Jon Larranaga," Capel said. "He's really the heart of that team. I thought we did a good job containing him, forcing him into bad shots."

Jim Larranaga thought that the inability of post players Jesse Young and Jai Lewis, who made 11 of 24 shots combined, to convert inside was the biggest problem as the Rams took a 32-25 lead at halftime. Both players got into foul trouble early, further limiting the Patriots' height advantage.

"We had eight shots within two feet early on, and we made hardly any of them," Jim Larranaga said. "That is not something we should be good at some nights and not others. That's something we need to consistently convert on."

Shooting guard Mark Davis picked up his fourth foul three minutes into the second half, and without Davis and Richard Tynes, who is out for at least one more game with a sprained ankle suffered against Towson Saturday, the Patriots lacked the focus that had been a staple as the Patriots won 8 of their past 10 games.

"We never felt our defensive intensity was there," Jim Larranaga said. "Not once did we feel our defense forced them to make any kind of reaction."

VCU took a 15-point lead midway with nine minutes left. The Patriots pulled within 56-50 with 3:36 remaining, but a pair of layups by Troy Godwin and a missed layup underneath by Young gave the Rams a 60-50 lead with two minutes remaining.