- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Lamar Butler boasted he would take George Mason to the Final Four before he arrived at the Patriots’ Fairfax campus in 2001.

Consider Butler a man of his word.

The senior guard scored 19 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Washington, D.C., bracket as 11th-seeded George Mason stunned top-seeded Connecticut 86-84 in overtime in yesterday’s region final at Verizon Center.

“I was joking you know, enjoying the press with you guys,” Butler said. “I started dreaming when I got to college. It shows you that anything can happen.”

As much as anyone part of George Mason’s storybook ride, Butler has enjoyed the chance to play on such a large stage. With his wide grin and gregarious personality, he has emerged as one of the fan favorites of the tournament.

The product of Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County waved eight fingers toward his father when the Patriots clinched a berth in the Elite Eight, then beamed and again looked toward his family when the final buzzer sounded yesterday.

In between, he chatted with CBS analyst Bill Raftery as he ran down the floor throughout the regional final.

“I told him I was going to have fun, and I told him [Saturday] it was going to be a great game,” Butler said. “I hope he enjoyed it. I kept telling him I was enjoying it throughout the game. After we got down early and at halftime, I told him the game’s not over. He just kept smiling.”

Butler made sure the Patriots (27-7) didn’t fade, making a series of 3-pointers to help George Mason erase a 43-34 halftime defecit. His long-range shot with 13:43 left capped an 8-0 run to pull the Patriots within 47-46.

Less than three minutes later, his 3-pointer off a feed from senior guard Tony Skinn gave George Mason its first second-half lead at 52-51.

“This team is so well balanced that someone is going to step up every night, and the last couple of nights it’s been Lamar,” Skinn said. “He’s a great shooter, and there were times where I had a great shot, but I knew Lamar was a little bit more open than I was. I gave it to him and he just knocked it down.”

That could have been the highlight for George Mason, which promptly surrendered a dunk to Connecticut’s Jeff Adrien on the next possession. Butler came right back, rolled off a screen and drilled a 3-pointer as the Huskies’ Rashad Anderson collided with him.

Butler made the ensuing free throw to boost the lead to 56-53, and George Mason never again trailed by more than a point.

“They did a good job of screening and getting me open, and one time Anderson cheated,” Butler said. “Nobody ever cheats, so when I saw him cheat over the screen, I faded to the corner and said, ‘I guess they gave me a look.’ He fouled me on it, and after that I was like, ‘I’m feeling it now.’”

Butler entered averaging 11.8 points as part of George Mason’s uber-balanced offense. However, he struggled for much of the final three weeks of the season and entered the postseason after shooting 2-for-14 in the CAA tournament three weeks ago.

The NCAA tournament has been far different. Butler has reached double figures in all four games and scored 33 points and made six 3-pointers in his two-game stint at Verizon Center. Still, he was stunned to hear he was the regional’s Most Outstanding Player.

“I thought it was Jai Lewis,” Butler said. “You look up at the board, and he had 20 or something. When they said Lamar Butler, I said, ‘Are you serious?’ I thought it would be the big fella.”

Either way, Butler grinned throughout the postgame press conference and later in the locker room. He wore his regional champions hat backward with a piece of one of the nets tucked under a velcro strap.

It was a well-earned trophy for Butler, and he isn’t about to let it escape his sight any time soon.

“I’ve got two actually,” Butler said. “I’m going to keep it in my pocket wherever I go. [The other], I’m going to frame it and keep it on my wall, good safekeeping for winning the regional championship to go to the Final Four.”

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