Thursday, March 15, 2012
Mason's Valiant Comeback Falls Short (Recap of George Mason-VCU CAA Semifinal)
After Drexel had soundly defeated ODU in the warmup act, the headliner was a matchup between two CAA rivals with a long rivalry. The Rams had knocked the Patriots out of the CAA Tournament the last two years. Last year was the most memorable as VCU upset George Mason, the regular season champion, in the semifinals. It's quite likely that win helped the Rams make the First Four. We all know what happened from there.
getting their fans in a frenzy.
Mason won the tip, but immediately turned the ball over as Darius Theus stole the ball and hit a layup to put VCU up 2-0. This would become the common theme for the first nine minutes. Another steal, another layup. 4-0 Rams. Then Troy Daniels buried a three to make it 7-0. Another steal by Rob Brandenberg leads to his dunk. 9-0. Burgess with three straight three pointers, the third resulting in him shaking his head down the court. 18-0 VCU.
The VCU fans in attendance that had been loud already, were now at the point of reaching all time record decibal levels of noise. It was deafening. Those of us that were sitting on press row, we were stunned. VCU hit all five of their three point attempts. Mason couldn't even get the ball down the court.
After the timeout, Brandenberg hit one of two free throws to put the Rams up 22-0. The Patriots finally got their first two points on free throws by Sherrod Wright. The twenty two point run had ended. But VCU wasn't quite finished yet.
That wasn't a misprint. VCU was leading a twenty four win George Mason team 32-4 after nine minutes of action. To put that in perspective, I had seen Iona score thirty one straight points against St Peter's exactly seven days before that. As impressive as that was, this was more impressive. St Peter's was the ninth place team in the MAAC. George Mason was the third place team in the CAA and basically the same team that made it to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament last season.
Only one word described how I felt sitting in my seat: Surreal.
But someone forgot to tell George Mason that.
Then the Rams went cold from beyond the arc, missing their last five three point attempts. This allowed the Patriots, led by Morrison and Arledge, to go on a 12-2 run to end the half. It was now a "respectable" sixteen point deficit at the half, 48-32.
The second half started out with Mason and VCU basically holding serve. After six minutes, the Rams' lead was fifteen, 55-40. The Patriots had not helped themselves, committing three more turnovers in that span.
But Hewitt made a change that ultimately helped Mason. He had Andre Cornelius now lead the point, which brought them needed quickness against VCU. Cornelius and Morrison combined to score all of Mason's points during their 12-4 run which cut the VCU deficit into half, 59-52 with about seven a half minutes left. The George Mason fans roared in approval.
Mason had a chance to cut the lead further, but they missed four consecutive shots over two possessions. They couldn't cut the lead any further. VCU scored eight of their last ten points on free throws. The Rams would hold onto a 74-64 win.
After watching two terrific games in front of a raucous, sold out crowd over eleven thousand people, I was convinced that there would be a great championship game with what I thought was two definite NCAA tournament teams. I wasn't able to stay for the championship game, because I had to get back to New York. But I got to see it the next night. It lived up to the billing.