Believe it: Mason's loose style lands it in Final Four
Posted: Sunday March 26, 2006 8:34PM; Updated: Monday March 27, 2006 10:31AM
Lamar Butler hit 4 of 6 three-pointers and finished with 19 points in Mason's incredible upset.
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WASHINGTON -- As the minutes and seconds kept dwindling in the second half and the score continued to stay tight, George Mason guard Chris Fleming sat on the bench, too nervous to cheer. "Jesus," he said to himself. "This is really happening."
It's safe to say that 19,718 spectators at the Verizon Center were thinking the same exact thing.
Nearly every person who watched the 11th-seeded Patriots' historic 86-84 win over top seed Connecticut here Sunday will remember a different moment when he or she realized the unbelievable was becoming entirely possible. Perhaps it was early in the second half when George Mason big man Jai Lewis kicked out to Lamar Butler for a three-pointer to tie the score at 49-49, erasing a one-time 12-point Connecticut lead. Perhaps it was with 5:01 remaining in regulation, when, just as it appeared that Huskies star Rudy Gay was about to single-handedly lead his team to victory, Tony Skinn drained a three-pointer to put the Patriots back up 69-65 and send the overwhelmingly green-and-yellow-clad crowd into a frenzy.
Or, for the most skeptical of skeptical, maybe it didn't come until the absolute final buzzer had sounded, long after Denham Brown's seemingly back-breaking, acrobatic lay-in with 0.2 of a second left had sent the game to overtime, only to be followed by George Mason's hitting all but one of its six shot attempts, Brown's last-chance three-pointer missing the mark and the euphoric Patriots dashing onto the court to don their freshly minted Final Four hats.
Standing at the scorer's table watching the celebration unfold, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who has been associated with college athletics for more than four decades, hid any disappointment for his own league's team to marvel at the event he'd just witnessed.
"I don't know of anything I've seen that's more remarkable," he said. "It reminds me of the night Villanova beat Georgetown."
In the NCAA tournament annals, it will go down as an upset on par with any, that epic 1985 title game included. This one wasn't for the trophy, but it was for the Final Four. It was an 11 seed knocking off the top remaining seed in the bracket. It was a team that had never won a tourney game prior to this season knocking off one of the most successful tourney teams of the past 15 years.
But to the people who saw it, it was a back-and-forth, heavyweight fight in which both teams played about as spectacularly as imaginable. During one frenetic, seven-minute stretch of the second half without a timeout, the lead changed hands eight times. It appeared the game was over the first time when George Mason went up 74-70 with 18 seconds remaining, but UConn responded with two clutch shots, a driving layup by Marcus Williams and, after Skinn missed the front end of a one-and-one with 5.5 seconds left, Brown's mind-boggling layup. When Mason went up 86-81 with 25 seconds left in overtime, Williams came right back and drained a long three, and Brown had a chance to win it at the buzzer.
Two nights earlier, Connecticut had done everything possible to lose to Washington, including turning the ball over 26 times. Nearly anyone could have pulled off the upset under those circumstances.