Patriots Topple North Carolina, 65-60; Head to Sweet Sixteen

Posted: March 20, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Fresh off its historic win over sixth-seeded Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, the George Mason men’s basketball team met and faced another challenge, toppling the defending national champions, the no. 3 seed University of North Carolina Tar Heels, 65-60.

The Patriots now face no. 7 Wichita State University in the Sweet Sixteen on March 24 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

George Mason (25-7) became the first Colonial Athletic Association team to reach the round of 16 since 1988, when Richmond went.

In the game against North Carolina, forwards Will Thomas and Jai Lewis dominated up front. After a rough start, the Patriots switched to a recently installed zone defense and showed they belonged, digging themselves out of an early 16-2 hole.

Carolina (23-8) faded down the stretch, missing four straight shots and repeatedly fouling. George Mason went 9-of-12 from the line in the final three minutes to pull away.

Thomas and Lewis repeatedly drove for layups and bank shots against Carolina’s front line, sparking a second-half comeback. The Patriots also took Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough out of the game by double- and triple-teaming him.

Hansbrough, who set a Carolina freshman record with 14 20-point games this season, was only 4-of-11 from the field when he went to the bench with his third foul and 13:08 remaining. He finished with 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting. David Noel, the Tar Heels’ top returner, had a team-high 22 points.

Lamar Butler led George Mason with 18 points and hit two free throws that put the Patriots ahead to stay 56-54 with 2:52 to go.

North Carolina made its opening run against a man-to-man defense that couldn’t keep up. After George Mason switched to the zone that was installed a couple of weeks ago, the Tar Heels bogged down, shooting 36 percent from the field and getting to the line for a total of four free throws in the game.

In their last meeting with the Wichita State Shockers on Feb. 18, George Mason came out ahead, 70-67, in the ESPN2 BracketBusters game. Wichita was 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.

Victory in round one
Senior guard Tony Skinn, who sat out Friday’s game, gets a hug after the Patriots victory over Michigan State.
Jim Larranaga
A happy coach faces the media after the Michigan State win.
Mason Athletics photos

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