- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

CLEVELAND - George Mason coach Jim Larranaga paced on the sidelines with his arms folded and a scowl on his face in the Patriots’ first game since last season’s Final Four.

But the Patriots played more like a CYO team, starting the season with an array of turnovers, porous defense and ill-advised shots in a 79-74 win over Cleveland State.

The Vikings, picked to finish last in the Horizon League, were the aggressors, beating George Mason downcourt, hitting shots and frustrating the Patriots defense with their full-court press and traps while building a double-digit lead.

“To start the game, we were a little overanxious,” Larranaga said. “We were like racing up and the floor in a hurry.”

George Mason had to overcome a 16-point deficit and 11 first-half turnovers in the win, finally taking the lead for good on Jordan Carter’s 3-pointer with 4:42 left. The Patriots sealed the win when Folarin Campbell who had six first-half turnovers and eight overall sank a pair of free throws with three seconds left for a five-point lead.

George Mason avoided the upset by pounding the ball inside in the second half. Will Thomas, who kept the Patriots close with 17 first-half points, finished with career-high 25 points along with 10 rebounds and five assists.

However, the important difference was getting Darryl Monroe the other big man involved in the second half. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound junior college transfer played only five minutes and did not take a shot in the first half. However, Monroe, from Virginia Beach, made his presence felt immediately after halftime by scoring the Patriots’ first six points, finishing with 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the second half.

The Patriots shot 19-for-26 (73.1 percent) in the second half. John Vaughn, who missed last season after having knee surgery, was 4-for-5 in the half, finishing with 18 points. Thomas was 4-for-5 and 10-for-13 overall. Monroe was 6-for-7.

“When you have a guy like Will inside and the defense starts to focus on him it opens up opportunities for the other guy,” Larranaga said. “I don’t think Darryl even took a shot in the first half. By then having two guys on the inside who can score made it much for difficult for them to key on Will or key on anybody, and we played a lot better.”

Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said: “It was a game we gave away.”

George Mason began the second half in a 2-3 zone to cool off Cleveland State from long distance. The Patriots hit three straight 3-pointers in one stretch. Campbell hit the first two and Vaughn the third to give them their first lead at 65-64.

“We’re not last year’s team,” Monroe said. “We are trying to have our own identity. Today was the first step in making that happen.”

Notes George Mason’s Makan Konate did not make the trip. The junior swingman has been cleared for practice after recovering from a knee injury. About 1,500 seats remain available for Saturday’s game at Patriot Center a Sweet 16 rematch against Wichita State. The Patriots’ Final Four banner will be unveiled before the game.

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