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VCU snaps George Mason’s streak in CAA semifinals

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RICHMOND, Va. | Virginia Commonwealth University arrived at the Colonial Athletic Association tournament coming off a brutal February and knowing it had to win three games.

Now, it just needs one more victory to get the NCAA tournament berth it desires.

Jamie Skeen scored 21 points and the Rams continued their mastery of George Mason, ending the top-seeded Patriots' nation's-best, 16-game winning streak with a 79-63 victory Sunday in the semifinals at Richmond Coliseum.

"I don't know what happened to me," the 6-foot-9 Skeen said after making four 3-pointers and 7 of 13 shots overall against the Patriots. "I never took six 3-pointers in one game in my life ... but I just felt like I could knock them down and they were leaving me open."

The Patriots actually left a lot of people open. VCU made nine 3-pointers by halftime, including five in a 21-3 run late in the half that gave them a 39-25 lead at the break.

After a quick 8-1 burst by George Mason to start the half and get within 40-33, Skeen and Bradford Burgess hit 3s in an 11-4 burst that rebuilt the margin to 51-37, and it was over.

The Patriots (26-6) never got the lead into single digits in the final 16 minutes.

The Rams (23-10), who were blown out 71-51 by George Mason in mid-February, knocked coach Jim Larranaga's team out of the tournament for the third year in a row.

"We've got to turn the page quickly," coach Shaka Smart said of his team, which had lost four of five before beating Drexel 62-60 on Skeen's buzzer beater in the quarterfinals.

"We've got one more game to get where we want to go."

The Patriots, meanwhile, can probably rest easy. With an RPI in the mid-20s, they are expected to get an invitation to the NCAA tournament without the league's automatic berth.

That's of some relief to Cam Long, who led George Mason with 20 points.

"I really don't want to go out like this," he said.

Burgess added 16 points and Joey Rodriguez 13 for the Rams, who made 11 3-pointers, one shy of the tourney record. Richmond did it twice, both times against the Patriots.

"We knew we had to win this game," Rodriguez said.

They did it by surprising Larranaga and his staff, which had seen the Rams attacking the basket on Saturday in the victory against Drexel, and expected more of the same Sunday.

Instead, they gave an "entirely different look," Larranaga said, led by Skeen.

He had made just 20 3-pointers all season, and had three in the first half.

"They basically had everything working for them," Larranaga said.

The game was back and forth until Ed Nixon's 3-pointer, one of nine in the first half for the Rams, launched them on the decisive 21-3 run. The Patriots went nearly 6 minutes without a point, and uncharacteristically turned it over on five of six possessions at one point.

The Patriots came out strong to start the second half, using an 8-1 run to close within 40-33 in less than two minutes, but the Rams came right back.

Nixon and Burgess scored on putbacks on consecutive possessions, answering baskets by the Patriots, and Skeen's 3-pointer built their advantage back to 47-37. A free throw by Skeen and Burgess' 3-pointer with 14:11 to go made it 51-37, and the Rams never let up.

 

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