George Mason's critics get to point

But Terps' opponent says low-scoring final was un-Patriotic

March 13, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Jim Larranaga's team is not on national television much, and after its last showing, that won't change.

Larranaga led George Mason into the Colonial Athletic Association title game against UNC-Wilmington, where 68 points were scored - total.

The final score of 35-33 is the second-lowest scoring NCAA men's basketball game since the shot clock was implemented in 1986. It was ugly, but enough to earn the Patriots an invitation to the NCAA tournament, where they will face Maryland on Thursday at the BSU Pavilion in Boise, Idaho.

A 35-point output leads one to think George Mason has a tough time scoring, is conservative on offense and stingy on defense. Not true - except for the stingy defense part - says Larranaga.

"For people who have not seen us play, they might look at that score and think we play conservative, when in fact the opposite is true," Larranaga said. "We are a team that has led our conference. We are a team that likes to play in the open court and pressure."

Unless his team plays UNC-Wilmington. In the earlier meetings this season, George Mason scored 42 points in an eight-point loss and 53 points in a four-point defeat.

"Our games against Wilmington are a little bit different than when we play other opponents," Larranaga said.

Those planning to tune in for Thursday's game undoubtedly hope so. "We're happy we won a ballgame like that, but certainly don't expect us to play a low-scoring, conservative game against Maryland," Larranaga said.

His Patriots did not play that way last season when they almost beat Maryland at Cole Field House, an upset that would have broken the Terps' then-69-game home winning streak against nonconference teams.

Maryland squeaked by, 69-66, back in December 1999, but trailed by two with less than three minutes left. The Terps held George Mason to one basket the rest of the game.

Such a close call against a first-round foe has the full attention of an experienced Maryland team.

"They played us real tough," Terps forward Tahj Holden said. "They've got to be pumped. We have to come out ready to play and not look past anybody."

In that game, center George Evans gave the Terps a fit. Evans, 30, now a senior, scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

The Terps can expect Evans, a Gulf War veteran, and senior guard Erik Herring (16 points a game) to be the focal points of an offense that is a lot better than what that CAA championship game, broadcast on ESPN2 on March 5, showed.

George Mason is averaging 70.6 points this season, went over the 100-point mark once and scored 99 against Virginia Commonwealth.

The Patriots have a nice 1-2 combination in Herring, who is shooting 40 percent from three-point territory, and Evans, who often dominates down low and is shooting 61 percent from the field.

"We've built this program on the shoulders of this senior class," Larranaga said. "When George was a freshman, we started putting this thing together."

This is Larranaga's fourth season at George Mason and second trip to the NCAA tournament. George Mason was wiped out in the first round by Cincinnati, 72-48, two years ago.

Things are different this time, though. For one, Larranaga said, his team is not just happy to be in the field, like it was against Cincinnati.

Second, there is a real sense that because of the familiarity with Maryland and the close margin the last time they played, George Mason has a chance. If the Patriots do pull off the upset, Larranaga was not shy about what such a victory would do for his program.

"The University of Maryland and Georgetown are premier teams every high school player and coach are familiar with in this area," Larranaga said. "When Georgetown and Maryland come knocking on your door, it opens. We want that type of respect.

"So, yes, this game is a little bit bigger than the one against Cincinnati."

Next for Terps

Opponent: George Mason in NCAA tournament West Regional first round

Seeds, records: No.3 Maryland (21-10); No. 14 George Mason (18-11).

Day, time: Thursday, approx. 3:02 p.m.

Site: BSU Pavilion, Boise, Idaho

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Line: Maryland by 16

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