Spoiler role down pat

Mason ousts 2005 champ No. 3 UNC

George Mason 65 North Carolina 60

March 20, 2006|By SKIP MYSLENSKI

DAYTON, Ohio -- Read the final score and know it was no fluke. North Carolina played great basketball for just 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 Patriots big men Will Thomas, a Mount St. Joseph alum, and Jai Lewis, who graduated from Aberdeen.

It was the third-seeded Tar Heels who settled for jumpers, which is usually the fate of the less-powerful team in a meeting like this. It was the 11th-seeded Patriots who got so many baskets inside, which is usually the mark of the higher-ranked teams.

Most importantly, it was North Carolina that buckled in the end and George Mason that broke late en route to a 65-60 victory.

The win yesterday at Dayton Arena pushed the Patriots into a Washington Regional semifinal against Wichita State.

Rocked early by a Carolina blitz that left them down 14, the Patriots rose from the mat, dusted off, collected themselves and roared back.

In the final 17 minutes of the first half, the Tar Heels were 6-for-28 from the field (21.4 percent). Thirteen of those shots were three-pointers, and they made only two. The Tar Heels were settling, and it was the Patriots who turned into the aggressor, just as they had been Friday in an upset of Michigan State.

The Patriots broke Carolina's rhythm with a zone, which they had added just before the tournament began, and then they started attacking down low with Thomas (eight points, six rebounds) and Lewis (nine points, eight rebounds). By halftime, the Patriots trailed by only seven.

"At halftime, I asked the guys to clear their minds and realize that that game was over," Patriots 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 then they took 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 put them up two, and they would never relinquish that lead, not even after Carolina tied the game at 54 with 3:01 remaining. The Patriots scored the next six points and sealed the win by making five of six free throws in the final 30 seconds.

Seven days earlier, when it was announced that the Patriots had made the tournament, the NCAA selection committee was criticized for including them.

"We watched those comments," Butler said, minutes after his team had embarrassed both Carolina and those critics.

"That kind of hurt us in the hearts. We thought we deserved to be in."

They thought it, and now they have proved it.

Skip Myslenski writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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