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George Mason Brings Down the Champ

The 11th-seeded Patriots score another upset, this time over third-seeded North Carolina, 65-60, after rallying from a 14-point deficit.

March 20, 2006|Skip Myslenski | Chicago Tribune

DAYTON, Ohio — Read the final score and know it was no fluke.

North Carolina played great basketball for three minutes. George Mason played it for 37. Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels' center and national freshman of the year, was effective only occasionally. He was more often controlled and outperformed by Patriot big men Will Thomas and Jai Lewis.

The third-seeded and defending NCAA champion Tar Heels settled for jumpers, which is usually the fate of the less-powerful team in a meeting like this. The 11th-seeded Patriots got so many baskets inside, which is usually the private playpen of the higher-ranked teams.

Most important, North Carolina buckled and George Mason broke away for a 65-60 victory.

The win Sunday at Dayton Arena pushed the Patriots (25-7) into a Washington Regional semifinal with Wichita State.

Rocked early by a North Carolina blitz that left them down 14, George Mason rose from the mat, dusted off, collected itself and roared back.

In the final 17 minutes of the first half, the Tar Heels were six for eight from the field. Thirteen of those shots were three-pointers and they made only two. The Patriots became the aggressors, just as they had been Friday while upsetting Michigan State.

They broke North Carolina's rhythm with a zone, which they had put in just before the tournament began, and then they started attacking down low with Thomas (eight points, six rebounds) and Lewis (nine points, eight rebounds). And by halftime, they were down only seven.

"At halftime, I asked the guys to clear their minds and realize that that game was over," Patriot Coach Jim Larranaga said. "I told them that [the second half] was a new game and to go out and execute as they had all season long."

He even sent them out early and had them warm up as they do before a game, and they proceeded to take over. On the Tar Heels' first six possessions, they missed a shot and committed six turnovers.

On the Patriots' first five possessions, they got a reverse layup from guard Lamar Butler (18 points), a layup from Lewis, a turnover from Lewis, a layup from guard Gabe Norwood and a layup from guard Folarin Campbell (15 points).

That gave them a two-point lead and they didn't fall behind again, not even after North Carolina (23-8) tied the score at 54-54 with 3 minutes 1 second remaining.

The Patriots scored the next six points and made five of their six foul shots in the final 30 seconds.

Seven days earlier, after George Mason had made the tournament, the NCAA selection committee had been roundly criticized for including the Patriots.

"We watched those comments," Butler said after Sunday's game. "That kind of hurt us in the hearts. We thought we deserved to be in."

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