George Mason Comes From Behind to Knock Off 'Nova

George Mason 61, Villanova 57

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Lindsay Czarniak talks to George Mason coach Jim Larranaga and some of the players about their first round win over Villanova. (Published Monday, Mar 21, 2011)

    Luke Hancock hit a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, capping George Mason's comeback and keeping the one-time March darlings playing with a 61-57 win over Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

    Villanova missed its last shot Friday and Mike Morrison slammed home one final basket for the Patriots (27-6), who likely will play Ohio State Sunday in the East region. The top-seeded Buckeyes are playing No. 16 seed Texas-San Antonio.

    This was the latest and last collapse for the Wildcats (21-12), who end the season on a six-game losing streak. They were once ranked as high as No. 5 but failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

    George Mason, which earned an at-large bid, came from behind to win its first tournament game since its Final Four run in 2006. Luke Hancock hit a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, capping the Patriots' comeback.

    George Mason Soaks in March Madness

    [DC] George Mason Soaks in March Madness
    The George Mason men's basketball team is enjoying the perks of being in the NCAA Tournament. (Published Thursday, Mar 17, 2011)

    "In the first half, they had total control of the tempo, they were holding on to the ball," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. "It was a different style than we're used to. We're kind of a pretty team, a finesse team, run up and down the floor, shoot a lot of 3s and share the ball, but what it ended up in the last five minutes of the game, we buckled down and played much better defense, got some stops and were able to get some critical baskets that gave our guys the confidence and the momentum to feel like we could overcome the deficit. Luke Hancock's 3 was incredible, but Ryan Pearson's 3-point play was just as important. Our defensive stops were great at the end. Mike Morrison and Isaiah Tate came along, really played great defense, and in a game like this, it's survive, and we did."

    Hancock scored 18 points, and Morrison had 10 points and 11 rebounds for George Mason. The eighth-seeded Patriots trailed by 10 in the first half only to inch their way back.

    Green Machine Goes Viral

    [DC] Green Machine Goes Viral
    A You Tube video is bringing international attention to the George Mason University pep band. (Published Friday, Mar 4, 2011)

    Isaiah Tate popped George Mason's first 3 of the second half with 1:57 left to make it 54-51, and the Wildcats crumbled from the free-throw line. Antonio Pena missed two and Mouphtaou Yarou clanked the front end of a one-and-one.

    Morrison took advantage, dunking in a miss with 55 seconds left for George Mason's first lead since early in the game.

    Corey Fisher drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and made all of them for a 57-56 lead.

    Hancock, his left shoulder taped and bandaged, showed no concern about any injury. He took a couple hard dribbles to his right, as if he was going to drive the lane for the go-ahead basket, then stopped right in his tracks. He crossed over and stepped back, then calmly knocked down the 3-pointer from a foot beyond the arc on the right wing.

    The crowd filled to the rafters with Ohio State fans -- most of them surely recalling George Mason's sizzling run of a few years ago -- roared in approval.

    Fisher finished with 20 points and Corey Stokes had 14 for Villanova, but each went cold in the final 20 minutes after a great first half that rekindled memories of a 16-1 start to the season. The Wildcats ended up winning their final game on Feb. 19.

    They went the final 3:28 without a field goal.

    George Mason won its first NCAA tournament game since it knocked off Connecticut in the 2006 regional final, a run that Larranaga said he never tires of talking about.

    He's got a new story now.

    "It was an unusual game, I think, for both teams, kind of like a prize fight where both guys punch really hard and you don't get great results and by the end you're both fatigued and trying to battle through and we kind of ended up being the last team standing," Larranaga said.

    George Mason can still become this year's George Mason -- although as a single-digit seed for the first time in program history, a run through March as the tournament's favorite mid-major will be a tougher sell.

    That's fine with the Patriots, who just want to keep this rolling.

    Villanova began the game like the team that was ranked No. 5 in the country, not the one that took a nose-dive in the second half of the season. Fisher and Stokes worked their way open and swished 3s as easy as free throws.

    Fisher scored 11 straight points and Stokes followed that run with three straight 3s. The two Coreys scored 22 of Villanova's first 23 points and helped them to a 10-point lead.

    Yarou scored the first non-Corey field goal with 6:55 left in the first half.

    Stokes missed a late 3, but Fisher bounced on a loose ball rebound and tossed up a floater to keep it a nine-point lead for Villanova. But unlike Michigan's rout over Tennessee, this was no 8-9 mismatch. On the brink of falling into trouble, the Patriots cranked the defensive pressure and hit free throws that help get them to 35-29 at halftime.