- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

RICHMOND — The George Mason coaching staff made many recruiting trips to a remote junior college in Arizona last year in an effort to land Dre Smith. In the Patriots’ first-round game in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, the explosive guard showed why he was worthy of all the attention.

Smith made his first seven 3-pointers and finished with 26 points to lead George Mason to a 73-62 win over James Madison.

“I can’t [explain it],” said Smith, who made seven of eight 3-pointers, only missing a desperation shot as the shot clock expired late in the game. “[Coaches] just wanted us to be more aggressive. I just kept on shooting and they were going in.”

George Mason, the tournament’s sixth seed, moves on to face third-seeded Hofstra tonight in a quarterfinal. With the win, the Patriots (16-14) assured themselves of a ninth consecutive winning season.

Smith made all four of his 3-pointers and had 14 points in the first half, but it was his barrage immediately after intermission that propelled the Patriots toward a rout. The Patriots led by two at the break before the sophomore made 3-pointers on the team’s first three possessions. Smith averaged 8.0 points and made 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers over the final eight regular-season games. In that span, his highest-scoring output was 13 points against Delaware.

“We knew he was very talented and capable,” said Dukes coach Dean Keener, whose team lost its seventh straight. “But to say he would go 7-for-8 [on 3-pointers]? No. Those things are contagious. Gabe Norwood hit one. I bet he hadn’t hit one in 2007.”

Norwood, the Patriots forward who had only eight 3-pointers on the season, delivered a 3-pointer on a fast break off Smith’s feed. The bucket was part of a 12-point run by George Mason that gave the Patriots a 57-41 lead.

The long-range barrage opened up the inside game for George Mason’s Will Thomas, who scored 14 points and Louis Birdsong, who added 11.

George Mason coach Jim Larranaga also moved Folarin Campbell back to point guard this week, and Campbell finished with 10 points and eight assists. The Patriots had 22 assists on 25 field goals, and committed only eight turnovers. Overall, George Mason shot 55.6 percent from the field.

Pierre Curtis led James Madison with 16 points but only had five after halftime. Joe Posey scored 15 points and Juwann James added 11 for the Dukes (7-23). The Patriots limited the Dukes offensive opportunities in the second half by implementing a 2-3 zone with Norwood using his 6-foot-5 frame and long arms to upset Curtis.

Larranaga said his team had an excellent week of practice despite four losses in its previous six games.

“We were very loose and in a very positive frame of mine. We want that approach,” said Larranaga, whose team lost to Hofstra 68-60 three weeks ago at Patriot Center. “I am not surprised by this. I would have been disappointed if we didn’t play this.”

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