- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

John Vaughan charged into the stands during his final home game, getting especially acquainted with some fans in the front row as he tried to collect a long carom.

He was slow to get up, and so was a patron. But he lingered, just to make sure he left the right impression.

“I went back over to her to see here again,” Vaughan said. “It was like she was crying. I didn’t want to go out like some kind of bully.”

In reality, the Patriots only pushed around Towson in a 71-59 victory, ensuring Vaughan and his fellow seniors finished their final regular season with the Patriots’ first perfect home record in a quarter-century.

The Patriots (20-9, 13-5 Colonial Athletic Association) clinched the No. 2 seed and will meet either James Madison or William & Mary in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Darryl Monroe and Dre Smith both scored 13 points and Cam Long added 11 for George Mason. Junior Hairston scored 19 points for the Tigers (10-21, 5-13), who lost to the Patriots for the 14th consecutive time.

As inhospitable as Patriot Center has become in recent years, George Mason never enjoyed an unbeaten season in the building. There were one-loss seasons - including in 2001, 2006 and 2008, when the Patriots earned NCAA tournament berths - but a perfect home resume eluded them.

The first undefeated year at home since 1984, then, is a piece of the legacy for Monroe, Smith, Vaughan and Chris Fleming, who all played their final home game - barring a game in the National Invitation Tournament.

The four left the floor together one final time in the closing seconds, savoring the adulation of the sellout crowd of 9,840.

“That’s a big thing for me,” said Smith, whose team was 14-0 at Patriot Center this season. “The fans supported us throughout the ups and downs all year long. For us to come out every night and represent our home court like that is important.”

George Mason played without forward Ryan Pearson after the freshman aggravated a right hand injury in practice. Pearson was examined Saturday, and while coach Jim Larranaga hoped it was merely a deep bone bruise, he was uncertain about Pearson’s availability for the CAA tournament.

The Patriots slogged their way through matters early but were more purposeful early in the second half. They summoned some more demonstrative moments, including Andre Cornelius’ alley-oop and Michael Morrison’s subsequent throwdown.

Minutes later, Long connected on an open 3-pointer to bump the margin to 49-39. From there, Mason’s lead hovered around 10, never to be seriously challenged in the second half.

It was the perfect end to a perfect home season, a feat the Patriots are eager to build upon when they reach Richmond next weekend.

“We need to do that we’ve been doing at home, which is basically staying solid on defense, staying down on shot fakes and continuing to share the ball on offense, I think we’ll be there Monday night [in the final],” Vaughan said. “We’ve completed a few of our goals - undefeated at home, first-round bye. It’s over with, and now it’s on to a new season. We have one goal in mind, and that’s to cut down the nets on Monday night.”

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