George Mason earns third NCAA trip with 35-33 win
Updated: Tuesday March 06, 2001 7:40 AM
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- George Evans saw the rebound carom to North Carolina-Wilmington's Ed Williams as the clock raced to zero.
He saw Williams bank it in off the glass, and then he went quickly to be alone.
"When the ball bounced off and he caught it, I knew it wasn't good," the three-time Colonial Athletic Association player of the year said after George Mason's 35-33 victory in the tournament championship.
"I prayed that things would go our way."
It was only fitting that on a night when the CAA's two best teams combined to produce the second-lowest scoring game in NCAA history since the shot clock was implemented in 1986, the last one didn't count.
And now Evans, a 30-year-old veteran of the Gulf War, is headed back to the NCAA tournament, the only thing he really wanted this year.
"I told my teammates, 'You all can have every one of these awards that I've won in the course of my career if you all can get me to the tournament,' and I meant that," Evans said, the net around his neck.
They did it in a most unusual game, one where each team had a scoring drought that lasted more than seven minutes, and where the last field goal of the night was Erik Herring's go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:27 left.
"It seems like every time we plays those guys, it's nip and tuck," Evans said. "We knew it was going to be close. We knew what they do, they knew what we do and it was all about execution and who wants it more."
The Patriots (18-11) held the top-seeded Seahawks scoreless for three long stretches, including the final 3:46. They managed only four points themselves in that stretch, and it was all the run they needed to win.
The game was within one point of matching the NCAA record for fewest points, set in SMU's 36-31 victory against Texas-Arlington in 1989.
"A lot of possessions, we just gave away," Wilmington's Craig Callahan said. "We were right in it. We just couldn't bring it home."
Callahan was the decided offensive star, hitting all five of his shots, including three 3-pointers. The rest of the Seahawks players were 6-for-33, and the Patriots were just 14-for-48 overall, including 1-for-14 on 3-pointers.
Wilmington also was uncharacteristically sloppy, turning the ball over a season-high 23 times. Their previous high was 17, and they committed just six giveaways in the semifinals against Old Dominion.
"That's not how we've played," head coach Jerry Wainwright said.
The defending champion Seahawks (19-10), making their fourth appearance in the title game in six years, had survived scoreless droughts of 6:18 in the first half and 7:53 in the second, but couldn't break through against the Patriots' tight defense in the final minutes.
"The game came down to moments, split seconds," George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga said after ending a four-game losing streak to Wilmington.
Herring's 3-pointer from the left side gave George Mason a 34-33 lead with 3:27 to go, setting the stage for one final offensive fizz-out.
Both sides came up empty on several possessions until George Mason's Tremaine Price was fouled following a rebound with 24.8 seconds left. Price hit one of two free throws, giving George Mason the final cushion.
The Seahawks called time, then inbounded the ball to Brett Blizzard. He dribbled several seconds off the clock, threw to Barron Thelmon in the left corner with about seven seconds left, and Thelmon drove toward the lane as the time wound down, tossing up a desperation shot that missed.
Williams, darting toward the basket, rebounded and tipped it in, but the officials ruled -- and replays confirmed -- he shot it too late.
Herring scored 12 points to lead the Patriots, and Evans had nine with 11 rebounds. The Patriots were 14-for-48 from the field for 29 percent.
The first half was either a defensive tour de force or a comedy of errors, with the Seahawks leading 19-17 at the break despite having more than twice as many turnovers -- 14 -- as they had field goals (6-for-19).
The Patriots went 7:32 between their second and third baskets, but still trailed only 11-6 when Jon Larranaga's 12-footer fell with 11:05 left. The Seahawks had a 6:18 drought, but led 14-13 even before it ended on two free throws by Thelmon with 3:30 to play in the half.