There were four mid major championship games last night. Three that involved the number one seed facing the #2 seed and another where a #3 seed was playing a #5 seed (and those seeds should have been reversed). Only one game was relatively close until the end.
Let's start with the CAA. It was a battle of the last two CAA champions; George Mason, who won last season and VCU, who won the prior season. Coming into the tournament, I really thought George Mason was the most balanced team. VCU, so I thought, was too reliant on Eric Maynor and if Maynor had an off night, VCU would be in trouble. And I also thought if Larry Sanders, their only other real scoring option got into foul trouble, VCU would be in trouble.
Eric Maynor, was Eric Maynor the entire tournament. Larry Sanders, never got into foul trouble the entire tournament . Thus the rest of the CAA was in trouble. And tonight, George Mason was in trouble.
Much to the delight of the crowd, mostly VCU fans, the Rams came out and shellacked George Mason 71-50. You could tell early that Mason was in for it. Darryl Monroe, the CAA leader in FG percentage, struggled on his first two shot attempts, missing both. In fact, Monroe would only attempt four shots the entire night. Meanwhile the Rams were able to get the ball into Sanders who had six of the first eleven VCU points.
Then up 11-7, the two time CAA player of the year, Eric Maynor, took over. Maynor scored ten straight points then assisted on the next three pointer by Bradford Burgess and VCU was up ten, 24-14 with 6:57 left in the first half. Also during this time, Larry Sanders already had eight rebounds and a block shot. It was one and done for Mason, as in one shot, miss, VCU rebound. Monroe had been so ineffective that he was taken out for freshman Michael Morrison who matched up somewhat better to Sanders but it still didn't matter. Sanders would add four more rebounds and a blocked shot (a total of 12 rebounds and 2 blocks) before the half ended, with VCU up 30-19.
If Mason fans had any hope of a comeback, they were immediately dashed as the second half opened. VCU outscored George Mason 13-1 and you could have switched to the SoCon championship game (to see Chattanooga also come out to a large second half run too). The score was 43-20. Ball game.
The Rams, shut down Mason's inside game as they did to ODU's Gerald Lee in the semis (Lee was 1 of 7 from the field for 5 points). As mentioned, Monroe had only four FG attempts and 3 points over all. The other Patriots big men, Louis Birdsong, Michael Morrison and Ryan Pearson combined for only twelve points. Mason shot 30 percent overall.
Much of that had to do with Sanders, who was just flat out dominant in the game. He had five blocks and another eight rebounds in the second half. Chip in a 7-12 shooting night and Sanders had 17 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks on the night. And he altered several more. Just ask Monroe.
And Maynor, was simply Maynor. Len Elmore who was doing the color in last night's game said they should rename Maynor's floater in the lane, "The Maynor". Maynor had 25 points on 9 of 20 shooting from the field and 8 assists. Just dominant. If he is not a first round NBA pick, I don't know who is.
So, one 7:00 PM Eastern start championship game was decided by 8:15 pm Eastern. Another championship game, the Southern Conference, or SoCon, was facing a similar fate.
Chattanooga, the #2 overall seed was facing Charleston, the #5 overall seed, despite Charleston (15-5 SoCon) having a much better record than Chattanooga (11-9 SoCon). This is due to the wacky idea the SoCon has of putting teams in separate divisions even though the teams still basically play everybody twice during the season (sans two teams). Thus, Chattanooga, who finished first in the SoCon North got the #2 seed and a first round bye, while Charleston finished third in the SoCon South got the #5 seed and had to play an extra game. Makes sense to me! Another key factor. The SoCon tournament was being played on the Moccasins' home court.
The teams battled back and forth in the first half, with no team claiming more than a seven point lead. After several ties and lead changes, the game was tied at 34. Tony White Jr did most of the first half damage for Charleston with 15 points on three bombs from beyond the arc. Meanwhile Chattanooga was much more balanced with Stephen McDowell, Ty Patterson and Kevron Sheard all chipping in.
The second half started much different than the first. Over the span of nearly six and half minutes, the Moccasins forced six Cougar turnovers and held Charleston to 0 of 6 from the field. Meanwhile the Mocs went 6 of 9 during that stretch. The result, a 20-0 Chattanooga run and the Mocs up 54-34.
Charleston, behind Tony White Jr, and Andrew Goudelock did not give up. They would counter with a 14-0 run of their own to cut the lead to 54-48 with 10:47 left. The Cougars would trim the lead down to five points at 56-51 with a little over eight minutes left. But that seemed to be the point where the Cougars ran out of gas. The Mocs would outscore the Cougars 13-4 over the next nearly five minutes and the game was over.
Tony White Jr. led all scorers with 31 points and Goudelock added 15 for Charleston. Chattanooga had four double digit scorers led by Sheard with 18, McDowell 15, Patterson 12 and Kevin Goffney with 10. The Mocs were also an impressive 22 of 27 from the line.
Later today will be Part 2, featuring Siena-Niagara and Gonzaga-St Mary's. Tonight, you have three championships being decided; the Summit - North Dakota St vs. Oakland, the Sun Belt - Western Kentucky vs. South Alabama and the Horizon - Butler vs. Cleveland State.