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.
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," portly center 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.
George Mason moves on to play North Carolina in the second round
of the Washington Regional.
"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.
The Patriots didn't make it easy on themselves, hitting just 10
of 21 free throws over the final 3½ 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
"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
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 a
holiday tournament two years ago 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, averaging almost 13
points a game, was suspended by George Mason for punching a Hofstra
player in the groin in the CAA semifinals two weeks ago.
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