- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

Michigan State nearly turned a letdown into a meltdown.

But, the No. 11 Spartans avoided a freefall in the polls by outlasting George Mason 66-60 yesterday in the consolation game of the BB&T; Classic.

Mason (3-3) led early and remained close until the final moments of the game at MCI Center. The Spartans (4-2) needed a 25-4 run near the end of the first half and some muscle underneath in the final minutes to win, but they rarely showed much interest after losing 78-54 to George Washington on Saturday.

“It was a hard game to play,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We were looking forward to a shot against Maryland in the championship. You don’t want to play in the consolation game. We got sloppy. It was a lack of focus.”

Mason played well despite losing to a Top 25 team for a school-record third time this season. Guard Lamar Butler scored a game-high 19 points after managing just two against Maryland on Saturday. Forward Jai Lewis added 12 points and eight rebounds and guard Gabe Norwood scored 10.

“The next time we play a team in that national caliber,” Mason coach Jim Larranaga said, “will be in the NCAA tournament.”

Mason didn’t repeat its terrible start it had Saturday, when it trailed Maryland 18-2 en route to a 78-54 loss. Yesterday, Mason scored 13 straight points to take an early 15-8 lead.

“We’re trying to focus on things we practice every day,” Larranaga said. “We didn’t do that [against Maryland]. We recognized mistakes we were making [against Michigan State] and corrected them during the game.”

Michigan State used six 3-point plays to overcome its first-half deficit and take a 33-19 lead. Mason didn’t yield, though. The Patriots ended the first half on an 11-2 run to put them down 35-30.

Mason relied on Norwood’s quickness and Butler’s outside shooting to close to 49-47 with 9:26 remaining. And six straight points from Lewis and a fast break bucket by guard John Vaughan enabled the Patriots to trail 56-55 with 4:55 left.

Mason couldn’t muster a breakthrough basket, though, as the Spartans pulled away.

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