- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001


RICHMOND Two tenths of a second.

In about as close of a game as can be played, that's all that separated George Mason and UNC Wilmington in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game last night.

The final: George Mason 35, UNC Wilmington 33 the second-lowest combined score in Division-I history since the shot clock was introduced in 1986. It also was the fewest points the Patriots have ever scored and given up in a game.

Game officials waved off a last-ditch basket by the Seahawks' Ed Williams that would have tied the game, ruling it came a split-second after the final buzzer. Officials reviewed the play briefly immediately after the game and upheld the call.

Tournament MVP Erik Herring hit a 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 3:26 to go for a 34-33 lead, what proved to be the game-winning shot. George Mason assistant coach Mike Gillian and Herring had pleaded with coach Jim Larranaga to call the play for Herring, and the timing couldn't have been better.

The Patriots (18-11) will make their second NCAA tournament appearance in the last three seasons and await their pairing, which is announced Sunday.

After the game, George Mason players and coaches were mobbed on the Richmond Coliseum floor by ecstatic fans. No one seemed to care about the suffocating defenses or the low score.

"I don't know what's going on right now I'm just so happy," said a jubilant Tremaine Price, who hit a free throw with 24.8 seconds left for the final margin. "It was a hard fought game… . It doesn't matter [that it was only 35-33]. As long as we have more points on the board and we're going to the dance that's all that matters."

Neither team led by more than two points in the last 12:49. After losing their last four meetings to the Seahawks, for the right to go to the NCAA tournament, the Patriots came out on top.

George Mason's senior leaders, George Evans and Erik Herring, scored 15 of their team's 18 second-half points. Appropriately, they led their team to its second NCAA tournament appearance in three seasons.

"It was so important that these guys come out on top for me," coach Jim Larranaga said. "I care about my players, but [the seniors] are the foundation."

UNC Wilmington's defense was sensational, but the Patriots' proved just a bit better. George Mason held UNC Wilmington's top two scorers, Brett Blizzard and Ed Williams, to a combined eight points. (They had averaged a total of 26.4.) The Seahawks committed 23 turnovers.

For George Mason to beat UNC Wilmington (19-10), the Patriots would seemingly have to shoot better than they did in their two losses, when they shot below 35 percent from the field, their two lowest outputs of the season. Somehow, it didn't matter George Mason shot 29 percent last night and still won.

"We scored 35 points and won the game that's ridiculous," said Jon Larranaga, who scored seven first-half points to keep the Patriots close.

In conferences like these, there is no bigger game. In the CAA's only national television game of the year, fans watching on TV and at the Richmond Coliseum might have considered it an unsightly brand of basketball, but consider: no more than eight points separated the two teams during the game.

Every possession and every field goal meant something. It wasn't so much great individual defense but great team defense by both teams that held the score down whenever a penetrator got a step on a defender, there were teammates there to help.

George Mason was the last team to beat the Seahawks in the tournament, defeating them in the 1999 semifinals.

"If we would have won [the tournament] without beating them, it still would have been a great feeling," Jon Larranaga said, "but beating them shows we are the best team in this league and it is our league… . Going through them, that's the way I wanted it."

After falling behind by eight in the first 10 minutes, the Patriots hung together. They responded with seven points while holding the Seahawks scoreless for 6:18 to close to 14-13. George Mason trailed 19-17 at the break.

Going to the "Big Dance" after beating a nemesis was especially vindicating for the Patriots. Afterward, Evans epitomized his teammates' satisfaction, celebrating wildly and even getting the last word in to a Seahawks fan who had taunted him before the game.

"I had to let him know that I might be old," said the 30-year-old Evans, "but I'm going to the dance."

Note The all-tournament team included George Evans and Jon Larranaga and Blizzard, Barron Thelmon and Craig Callahan from UNC Wilmington.

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