George Mason Advances Past Michigan State, 75-65
March 17, 2006
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Sensing that his team was nervous and tight, George Mason coach Jim Larranaga called his players together after practice earlier this week.
"When you get to Dayton, have a ball," he told them. "I'm going to have as much fun as I possibly can."
They sure did.
Folarin Campbell scored 21 points and the 11th-seeded Patriots used hot shooting, a balanced attack and a surprising rebounding superiority to upset sixth-seeded Michigan State 75-65 Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Mason will play third-seeded North Carolina on Saturday in the second round at 2:20 p.m.
Losers in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, the Patriots (24-7) had to hold their breath when the brackets were announced. Then they had to hold their tongue when many questioned why a team from the lightly regarded CAA would get an at-large bid over heavyweights such as Cincinnati of the Big East and the ACC's Florida State.
"We just used that as motivation," Jai Lewis said. "We're No. 9 nationally in field goal defense, our RPI is high and we won our conference. We deserved it."
Overjoyed fans of the conference's regular-season champs chanted "C-A-A! C-A-A!" in the closing minute.
"The disappointing thing is they took it at us early and kicked our butts inside," said Spartans coach Tom Izzo, who came into the game with a glittering .767 winning percentage in NCAA tournament games. "I'm disappointed, saddened. On this night, they brought it and we didn't."
In his last three games, Thomas has scored a career-high 21, followed by games of 19, 17 and now 18. Over those four games, he has made just under 75 percent of his shots from the field.
Maurice Ager had 27 points for Michigan State, with Drew Neitzel adding 14 points and eight assists.
The Patriots didn't make it easy on themselves, hitting just 10 of 21 free throws over the final 3 1/2 minutes. But they made 59 percent of their shots from the field (29-of-49).
Based on tournament history, it should have been a mismatch. The Patriots had never won an NCAA game in three tries while the Spartans (22-12) had been to four Final Fours in the last seven years.
"It means an awful lot to the university, and it means an awful lot to me," Larranaga said of the school's first NCAA victory.
Ager hit the Patriots with his best shot, scoring 10 consecutive points and 13 of 15 to lead the Spartans back to a 52-51 lead with 6:41 left.
But Campbell hit a 15-foot jumper and after MSU's Matt Trannon was called for his fourth foul at the offensive end, Butler picked up a loose ball and drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing. Ager misfired on a 3 before Thomas scored in traffic to make it 58-52. Thomas then blocked Davis' shot and Campbell popped in another 3 for a 61-52 lead.
"That was a big 3," Campbell said. "It felt good."
The lead never dropped below six points again.
"A lot of they time they were getting easy baskets," Ager said. "It hurt us the whole game."
The Patriots, who have won 17 of their last 20, lost both previous meetings with Michigan State, including a 66-60 loss in the BB&T Classic last year that they said proved they could play with the Spartans.
They were outrebounded 39-22 in that game, and Larranaga preached to his players all this week that they had to pound the boards to stay in the game.
They got the message, aggressively turning the tables for a 40-24 rebounding advantage against a taller opponent.
"They really went at us inside - it was almost a joke," Izzo said. "We've never been handled like that inside. I've got to give them some credit, but I also have to give us some blame."
The Patriots led most of the game despite playing without their second-leading scorer, Tony Skinn. Skinn was out, serving a one-game suspension.
In the end, they didn't need him.
"It was their night and they deserved it," Izzo said. "We're just going to have to lick our wounds, appreciate our seniors and move on."