Men’s Basketball Makes History with a Slam-Dunk Season

Posted: March 6, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

men's basketball image
2005-06 has been another successful season for George Mason men’s basketball.
George Mason Athletics photos/Creative Services image

By Robin Herron

You know there’s got to be a lot of drama in a sports season that starts with Midnight Madness and ends with March Madness. For the George Mason Patriots, this season has meant lots of madness – the good kind – for the players, the coaches and the fans. And while the Patriots didn’t win their conference championship, they won a school-record 23 games this season.

As Head Coach Jim Larranaga told a packed Johnson Center Atrium crowd gathered for a pep rally last week to send the team off to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament, the Patriots “made history” when they were selected to the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll top 25. It was the first time in Mason history and only the second time for a CAA team.

Cracking the top 25 came after an exciting Patriots win over Wichita State University in the ESPN2 BracketBusters game on Feb. 18. Getting a spot in the BracketBusters game, televised nationally from Wichita in prime time, was itself a landmark for the Patriots.

Perhaps more than at any other time this season, the George Mason team showed its depth and strength in the game against Wichita, a team that had been 13-1 at home on the season before the game and entered the contest in first place in the well-respected Missouri Valley Conference. At the time, Mason also led in its conference, but Wichita was 21st in the ratings percentage index (RPI), compared to Mason’s 27th RPI.

Showing Their Mettle

The Wichita game was arguably the biggest regular-season game in George Mason school history. However, you couldn’t tell the Patriots were off campus and out of state by the way they played – they looked as comfortable as if they were home playing in the Patriot Center.

The Patriots led the Shockers for nearly the entire game, culminating with a 13-point lead in the second half. But then the Patriots and their fans got a scare when the Shockers rallied with the support of their home crowd and tied the game 67-67 with only 28.7 seconds to go. That’s when Mason’s seniors stepped up.

Forward Jai Lewis slipped out of a double team in the post and passed the ball to guard Tony Skinn, who was wide open. Making it look like it was the easiest thing in the world, Skinn took aim from behind the three-point line with 10.8 seconds to go and sank the shot that would win the game, 70-67, for the Patriots.

That was the defining moment of the season. But to get to that point, the Patriots had relied all season on a solid lineup that includes another outstanding senior, guard Lamar Butler; juniors Tim Burns, Makan Konate, Charles Makings, Gabe Norwood and Jesus Urbina; sophomores Folarin Campbell, Jordan Carter, Will Thomas and John Vaughan; as well as freshmen Chris Fleming and Sammy Hernandez.

The seniors, whom Larranaga called “the most successful senior class in the history of George Mason basketball,” undeniably set the tone for the rest of the team. And at the end of the regular season, they were each recognized by the conference as well. Lewis was named First Team All-CAA, Skinn was named Second Team All-CAA and Thomas was named to the CAA All-Defensive Team.

Coach Larranaga at pep rally
“We made history,” Men’s basketball Head Coach Jim Larranaga told students gathered for a pep rally in the Johnson Center last week.
Creative Services photo

The Winningest Coach

Coach Larranaga long passed the Mason mark as its winningest coach, but he also met the conference milestone this season. With his 107th CAA win against the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Feb. 4, Larranaga passed Richmond’s Dick Tarrant for first place on the league’s career victories list, which includes regular-season and tournament play. Larranaga’s CAA wins currently stand at 112.

In his 9th season at Mason and his 21st year as a head coach, Larranaga is used to winning. He has a career record of 337-266 as head coach. At the helm for Mason, Larranaga has seen the Patriots win two conference championships, and he’s taken them to two NCAA Tournaments and two NIT appearances. During his coaching career, 55 of his players have been drafted or played professional basketball.

Larranaga has been named Coach of the Year by the CAA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 4, and he was selected state Coach of the Year by the Virginia Sports Information Directors and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Originally from Bronx, N.Y., Larranaga is a 1971 graduate of Providence College with a degree in economics. A four-year letterman for the Friars, he was the team captain as a senior, leading Providence to a 20-8 record and an NIT appearance. He graduated as the school’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,258 points and was selected in the sixth round of the draft by the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association.

Basketball crowd
Attendance at the Patriot Center at home games this season has been breaking records, too.
George Mason Athletics photo

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