- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

RICHMOND — Darryl Monroe blocked a close-range shot to start the fast break and Jordan Carter finished it with a reverse layup at the halftime buzzer. George Mason’s players headed to the locker room jumping up and down and exchanging high-fives.

George Mason rode a dominant first half to a 64-61 victory over Hofstra in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament at Richmond Coliseum. The Pride rallied in the second half and even had a chance to tie in the closing seconds before the sixth-seed Patriots enjoyed their best win of an otherwise difficult season.

“We have been working all season towards the feeling our guys have right now,” said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, whose team won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 20. “We want our players to understand basketball is a game and you should have fun.”

George Mason (17-14) plays second-seeded Old Dominion in today’s second semifinal game. Top-seeded Virginia Commonwealth plays Drexel in the first game at 3 p.m. The Patriots broke a four-game losing streak to the Pride and beat one of the league’s top four teams for the first time in seven meetings this season.

Hofstra most likely saw its NCAA tournament at-large hopes end and should land in the NIT. George Mason was dominant on the boards with a 38-31 advantage, led by Monroe (10 points, 10 rebounds). Folarin Campbell had 16 points and six assists to lead the Patriots.

The Patriots closed the first half on an 11-point run and was ahead 43-28 after Carter’s acrobatic layup, but they did not have the game won until the final buzzer. With the Patriots up 64-61 with eight seconds left, Carter missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Pride got the rebound and Greg Johnson raced down court with the ball — but inexplicably took a two-point shot on a runner from the left baseline.

George Mason’s Will Thomas grabbed the rebound and dribbled until the clock ran out.

“We really thought we would be able to drive the ball and kick it out to one these guys [Loren Stokes or Antoine Agudio] or [Carlos] Rivera,” Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said of his sharpshooting backcourt.

Stokes and Agudio entered the game as the nation’s highest scoring backcourt at 41.3 points a game, but both struggled. Stokes, the CAA player of the year who averaged 20.8 points, finished with 18 points on 4-for-13 shooting. Agudio, who averages 20.3 points, missed 11 of 16 shots and had 13 points. Rivera, the third guard in the three-guard offense, had a game-high 21 points after making his first five 3-pointers before cooling off.

“We really emphasized we have to defend the big three,” said Larranaga, who mixed man-to-man and zone defenses. “And to keep their guys off the offensive glass.”

Larranaga felt offensive rebounds were the reason the Pride beat them 68-60 three weeks ago.

Hofstra battled back after a putback by Monroe gave the Patriots a 58-46 lead with 7:06 left. Campbell was called for two push-offs as George Mason went scoreless on six straight possessions. The Pride scored nine straight with Stokes’ jumper from cutting the Patriots’ lead to three with 2:07 left.

“We had been winning the majority of the game,” Campbell said. “I told them to have poise. When they hit big shots, we needed poise. And we had it.”

Thomas hit a free throw to make it a four-point lead with 1:53 left and Louis Birdsong’s follow shot made it 61-55. Gabe Norwood made two free throws with 16 seconds left to make it 64-59 before Stokes hit a pair of foul shots with nine seconds left to make it a one-possession game.


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