- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Losing because George Mason shot lights out from 3-point territory or because Connecticut had another 26-turnover game wouldn’t have shocked Huskies coach Jim Calhoun.

But losing because the Patriots’ big men were far superior to Connecticut’s starting frontcourt?

“I never would have expected that coming into the game,” Calhoun said.

Neither did anyone else. Except, of course, Jai Lewis and Will Thomas.

Lewis (20 points, seven rebounds) and Thomas (19 points, 12 rebounds) outshone the Huskies’ Josh Boone (six points, four rebounds) and Hilton Armstrong (eight points, five rebounds) in George Mason’s stunning 86-84 overtime victory yesterday in the Washington, D.C., Region final at Verizon Center.

Lewis and Thomas are both 6-foot-7, but they both had their way against the taller Boone and Armstrong, who are 6-10 and 6-11, respectively.

“All year, we’ve been playing 6-9, 6-10, 6-11 guys and a couple of 7-footers,” Lewis said. “You just have to use your moves and know how to get them up in the air, go underneath them and get them into a position where you can score.”

And because they knew Boone and Armstrong are solid shot blockers, Lewis and Thomas improvised. Lewis drove to the basket for several baskets, and Thomas used a baby hook shot that gave Connecticut fits.

The duo was helped by George Mason’s 9-for-18 3-point shooting, which kept Connecticut guards Marcus Williams and Denham Brown from dropping down to double team the post.

“The more 3s they made, we became more reluctant to play the post with double teams,” Calhoun said. “We couldn’t send down the small man. Every one of those 3s were like daggers that allowed both Lewis and Thomas to do what they want.”

Lewis and Thomas scored nine of George Mason’s first 18 points. From there, point guard Tony Skinn said additional effort was made to pound the ball inside.

“The previous game, Wichita State’s defense came in wanting to stop the guards, but me, Lamar [Butler] and Folarin [Campbell] went off,” Skinn said. “UConn was a bigger team, and Jai and Will were supposedly not capable of playing with them.”

Campbell said the plan to feed the ball inside was simple.

“We basically ran the same play the whole game,” he said. “Give it to them inside. See if they had a shot. Give it back to us if they didn’t. And we would hit our open looks.”

The Patriots shot 50 percent for the game, and Lewis and Thomas hit 14 of their 24 shots.

In overtime, Lewis and Thomas scored eight of George Mason’s 12 points. With the Patriots up 80-78, Thomas scored a key basket when he took the pass with his back to the rim, glanced at the opposite bucket’s shot clock, spun and hit the hook shot.

Asked whether he had more than one post move, Thomas said: “They’re going to have to stop this really strong move before I go to my other moves in the post — but I won’t let you know what those are.”

He isn’t going to reveal his secret to controlling the glass, either. George Mason outrebounded Connecticut 37-34, only the fifth time all season the Huskies — who entered with a plus-9.9 rebounding margin — had lost that battle.


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