Patriots Advance to CAA Championship Game

Posted: March 9, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

The Mason men’s basketball team played its best defensive game of the season, winning 53-41 Mason over UNC Wilmington in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament in Richmond on Sunday.

The Patriots will play William & Mary tonight night at 7 p.m. in the CAA Championship game, televised on ESPN. It will be Mason’s ninth appearance in the CAA finals.

The Patriots held UNCW to 28.1 percent shooting in the game, including 21.9 percent in the second half, while limiting the Seahawks to their lowest point total of the year.

Entering the contest, UNCW led the CAA in field-goal percentage and points per game, but Mason stifled their outside shot and denied entry passes into the post to Vladimir Kuljanin, the CAA’s leader in field-goal percentage.

Chad Tomko, who scored 16 and 18 points respectively in the two meetings this year between the teams, did not score as John Vaughan shut him down offensively.

Folarin Campbell finished with 15 points and five rebounds while Louis Birdsong had 10 points and five boards. Will Thomas had six points on two of three shooting, and he grabbed 14 rebounds.

Kuljanin finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and T.J. Carter had 16 points.

Mason struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the early minutes, especially as the Seahawks double-teamed Thomas immediately every time the ball went into the post. But the Patriots stuck with it, and Louis Birdsong benefited, collecting two offensive rebounds and scoring six of Mason’s first 10 points. The critical stretch in the first half came with Mason leading 18-16 with eight minutes to play.

First Thomas scored inside, then Vaughan added a basket in the post to make it 22-16. Chris Fleming added a reverse layup to make it 24-16, giving Mason its largest lead of the half.

The Seahawks were able to pull to within five at the break, 31-26. Mason shot 53.8 percent in the first half while holding UNCW to 36 percent shooting. The Seahawks, however, were five of eight from the line, while Mason was just one of two.

Louis Birdsong and Dre Smith each had eight points while Thomas had five points and six rebounds.

T.J. Carter had nine for UNCW while Vladimir Kuljanin and Daniel Fountain each scored six.

The opening minutes of the second half were just as sluggish as the first. The teams combined for just four field goals in the first nine minutes of the half. Mason was ahead by eight, 38-30, when Daniel Fountain hit his third three-pointer of the game.

The Patriots responded with a 6-2 run that gave them their largest lead of the night to that point, a 44-35 advantage with 7:55 to play.

The Patriots managed just one point over the next six-plus minutes, but the inability to score, while frustrating, didn’t hurt Mason as UNCW managed just two points in more than seven minutes of action.

Carter’s pull-up jumper on the fastbreak with 1:58 to play made it 45-39. Campbell’s free throws with 1:34 ended the draught and pushed the Mason lead back to eight. From there, Mason made free throws as their final nine points came at the line.

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