March 24, 2006
WASHINGTON (AP) - Feeling right at home, George Mason used a shutdown defense to take the suspense out of its mid-major matchup with Wichita State.
Now the 11th-seeded Patriots are one victory from the Final Four.
Playing a short drive from George Mason's campus, Folarin Campbell scored 16 points and the Patriots stifled seventh-seeded Wichita State's bigger lineup to win 63-55 Friday night, moving into the NCAA tournament's round of eight for the first time.
Actually, the Patriots' first tournament win came last week, when they stunned sixth-seeded Michigan State and No. 3-seeded North Carolina, the defending national champion.
But George Mason's defense was superb in those games, too. So was Campbell, a 6-foot-4 forward who, like the rest of the Patriots' starting five, hails from nearby Maryland.
Campbell averaged 10.7 points this season, but had 36 in the first two rounds and got the Patriots going early Friday by making his first three 3-point attempts. After each one, backpedaling to play defense, he let out a yell and motioned to the vocal George Mason fans.
Senior guards Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler added 14 points apiece for the Patriots (26-7). When Butler dribbled out the final seconds, he dropped the ball and wagged eight fingers toward a TV camera, as in, "Round of eight, here we come!"
There were questions on Selection Sunday about whether the Patriots belonged as an at-large choice from the Colonial Athletic Association, in part because the team lost two of its last four games.
Think they belong now?
George Mason advances to meet top-seeded Connecticut or fifth-seeded Washington in Sunday's Washington Regional final. Those teams played in Friday night's second game.
The Patriots didn't need a whole lot of scoring Friday because Wichita State (26-9) just could not put the ball in the bucket. It finished 20-for-64 on field-goal attempts, including a startling 3-for-24 on 3-pointers.
The Patriots did a great job of denying the ball to Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Paul Miller, who led the Shockers with 16 points, and nine rebounds. Wichita State's second-leading scorer, Sean Ogirri, had all of four points on 1-for-8 shooting.
George Mason broke out to a 9-0 lead and was up by as many 18 en route to a 35-19 edge at halftime. The advantage grew as large as 19 in the second half, and Wichita State's offense never got going consistently. One sequence, with about 2 1/2 minutes left, captured the Shockers' rough night: They got three straight offensive rebounds, but the first two putbacks were strongly contested and didn't fall, and on the third, P.J. Couisnard simply missed an open layup.
Wichita State started hitting some shots late, getting as close as 62-55 on Kyle Wilson's 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. But that was it, and George Mason held on despite shaky foul shooting, then jumped on each other and shouted to celebrate another victory.
The game was seen as something of vindication for mid-major schools. The Shockers reached the regional semifinals by beating the Big East's Seton Hall and the SEC's Tennessee, which was seeded second.
On Friday, the Shockers were playing about 1,200 miles from Wichita, Kan. George Mason's main campus, in Fairfax, Va., is about 20 miles from the Verizon Center, where the Patriots played one "home" game at the this season.
More than three hours before tipoff, dozens of George Mason fans were milling around outside in yellow shirts, green caps, "Go Mason" signs, and even the occasional three-cornered black hat that's something the original Mr. Mason might have worn in the 1700s when he was writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights - upon which the Constitution's Bill of Rights was based.
The tone was set right from the start.
Wichita State's first six possessions went this way: two missed field-goal attempts, three turnovers and a blocked shot. That helped George Mason open a 9-0 edge, prompting Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon to call a timeout less than 2 1/2 minutes in. The Patriots held the Shockers to 9-for-30 shooting by halftime, 1-for-11 on 3-pointers, and Wichita State's 19 points tied its low for a first half this season.
Hard to believe, perhaps, but the Shockers opened the second half in even worse fashion, missing 11 of their first 14 shots. It's the kind of tough D that the Patriots have been playing in the NCAA tournament - all season, in fact, tying for eighth in Division I by holding opponents under 39 percent shooting.