- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

On a day George Mason honored one of the most decorated senior classes in program history, the Patriots had little trouble disposing of a James Madison team that started five freshmen.

Senior sharpshooter Lamar Butler scored a season-high 27 points, and the Patriots clinched a share of the CAA regular-season championship yesterday by throttling the last place Dukes 95-68 in front of 8,448 at Patriot Center.

George Mason (22-6, 15-3 CAA) set a school record for regular-season victories and bounced back from a 77-66 defeat Thursday night at Hofstra. The Patriots will be the No. 2 seed at the CAA tournament next weekend in Richmond after losing a tiebreaker with UNC Wilmington.

“[A regular season title] is a first for all of us,” Butler said. “It feels good to win a regular season championship, but that’s not it. We are looking forward to the tournament.”

Butler led a long-range shooting clinic by the Patriots, matching a career high with seven 3-pointers in nine attempts. George Mason made 12 of 21 from beyond the arc against a variety of Dukes defenses.

Even senior wide-bodied big man Jai Lewis — who missed all four attempts from inside the 3-point line — knocked down a pair of 3s from the top of the key.

James Madison (5-22, 2-16) tried 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones and encountered the same result as its man-to-man strategy — too many open jumpers for the Patriots. And too often it was Butler, the school’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals, knocking down the shots.

“The first time I saw Lamar play [at Oxon Hill High School], he lit it up from the 3-point line,” George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. “I went and watched him in a Charlie Webber event over at the University of Maryland. He had 36 points, and he only took like 12 shots. They were all 3s, and he made them all, or at least it seemed that way to me.”

When George Mason couldn’t find an outside shot to its liking, sophomore Will Thomas found little resistance around the goal. Thomas made nine of 10 shots — all within arm’s length of the rim or closer — and finished with 21 points. Many of those shots came on passes from Folarin Campbell, who added six points and eight rebounds to his career-high 10 assists.

Dukes coach Dean Keener said the decision to start five freshmen — including two that were starting for the first time — was made Friday in practice when those five bested a group of upperclassmen in a “challenge match.”

Freshman Kyle Swanston led the Dukes with 17 points, and classmate Joe Posey had 14. Keener was a bit miffed that most of the questions during his postgame press conference focused on the starting five.

“I don’t think who I started had an effect on the game,” Keener said.

Thomas and Campbell will transition from complementary players to leaders next season when the Patriots have to replace Butler, Lewis (12 points and eight rebounds yesterday) and slick-handling point guard Tony Skinn (10 points).

For now, the Patriots will focus on the CAA conference tournament — or at least strengthening their NCAA tournament resume with some wins next weekend.

“One of the great parts of this team is the balance that we have,” Larranaga said. “This team is like a wheel with spokes, and each shares the responsibility in making the team go.”

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