- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Happy birthday, coach.

Not quite.

UNC Wilmington coach Jerry Wainwright turned 54 yesterday. To mark the occasion, George Mason's unforgiving defense held the Seahawks to 56 points 10 points below their season average.

Despite a truly outstanding defensive effort, George Mason had to survive a last-second, potential game-tying 3-pointer from one of the Colonial Athletic Association's best shooters.

The Patriots limited the Seahawks to 35 percent shooting from the floor and watched UNC Wilmington guard Brett Blizzard's 21-foot 3-pointer bounce off the rim, as George Mason held off the Seahawks 59-56 before 2,247 last night at the Patriot Center.

The victory kept the Patriots (15-7, 9-4 CAA) in second place in the conference by percentage points over Drexel (10-5) and Virginia Commonwealth (9-5).

George Mason reserve forward Terrance Nixon led the Patriots with 14 points on six of nine shooting, and center Jesse Young contributed 13 points and nine rebounds. But it was the defense that was the difference.

"We've prepared ourselves much better in recent games and tonight played quality defense for extended periods of time," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said.

The Seahawks (16-8, 11-3) blew out the Patriots 68-51 the first time these teams met Jan. 9 in Wilmington, N.C.

That was then, this is now. George Mason's aggressive man-to-man defense shut down the CAA's best team in the first half. The Seahawks scored a season-low 23 points in the first half because of George Mason's relentless pressure.

The Patriots also know who is UNC Wilmington's meal ticket. Blizzard, the CAA's second-leading scorer at 17.9 points, was unable to get shots in the first half. The 6-foot-4 junior scored just five first-half points on two of nine shooting from the floor.

Part of Blizzard's problem was that Seahawks point guard Tim Burnette got into early foul trouble. Blizzard had to switch to the point, and his offense suffered. For the game, Blizzard made six of 23 shots for a game-high 16 points and played the full 40 minutes.

The Patriots' swarming defense completely disrupted UNC Wilmington's offense in the half. Without a true point guard on the floor, the Seahawks had no floor leadership and it showed. The Seahawks' lack of execution was apparent in the first half when no high screens were set to free Blizzard, and they trailed 33-23 at the break.

With Blizzard off, the rest of the Seahawks followed his lead. The Seahawks shot just 33 percent (10 of 30) from the floor.

"It goes back to practice," Young said of the Patriots' defense. "Coach told us [to] find Blizzard early. Raoul [Heinen] and Richard [Tynes] contested every one of his shots. It was a total team effort on the defensive end."

Meanwhile, George Mason's offense was clicking on all cylinders in the half. Led by Young's nine and Nixon's eight points, the Patriots shot 56 percent.

The Patriots closed out the first half on a 14-4 run that consumed the last 6:07. Young and Nixon combined to score 12 of the Patriots final 14 points of the half. Young scored the bulk of his points during the run on uncontested layups.

Nixon unleashed his mean jumper on the Seahawks. Nixon, out of Oxon Hill, canned a pretty 10-foot turnaround jumper from the right baseline that pushed the Patriots out to a 25-19 lead, and a minute and a half later, knocked down a 16-footer from just beyond the foul line to give Patriots a 29-19 lead with 3:10 before halftime.

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