Patriots Headed to Elite Eight

Posted: March 24, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Feeling right at home, George Mason used a shutdown defense to take nearly all the suspense out of its mid-major matchup with Wichita State University, downing the Shockers, 63-55, Friday night. Now the Patriots will face the top-seeded University of Connecticut on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Verizon Center.

Now the 11th-seeded Patriots are one victory from taking their magical run all the way to the Final Four.

Playing a short drive from the campus, Folarin Campbell scored 16 points and George Mason stifled seventh-seeded Wichita State’s bigger lineup, moving into the NCAA tournament’s round of eight for the first time.

Actually, the Patriots never had won a tournament game until last week, when they stunned sixth-seeded Michigan State University and No. 3 University of North Carolina, the defending national champion.

But George Mason’s defense was superb in those games, too, as was Campbell, a 6-foot-4 forward who, like the rest of the Patriots’ starting five, hails from nearby Maryland. He averaged 10.7 points this season, but had 36 in the first two rounds of the NCAAs and got the Patriots going early Friday by making his first three 3-point attempts.

After each one, backpedaling to play defense, he let out a yell and motioned to the vocal George Mason fans.

Senior guards Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler added 14 points apiece for the Patriots (26-7). When Butler dribbled out the final seconds, he dropped the ball and wagged eight fingers toward a TV camera, as in, “Round of eight, here we come!”

Meanwhile, George Mason Head Coach Jim Larranaga was named as one of five finalists on Friday for the Clair Bee Award presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In general, the Clair Bee Award will honor a division one head coach for an outstanding contribution to the sport of basketball during the 2005-06 season. Previous Clair Bee Award winners have included notable coaches Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Clem Haskins, Jim O’Brien, Lute Olson, Bob Knight, Jim Phelan, and Tom Crean.

Other finalists for the award include Pat Flannery of Bucknell, Karl Hobbs of George Washington, Ben Howland of UCLA and Mark Turgeon of Wichita State.

The Clair Bee Award honors a current college basketball coach for positive contributions made to the sport of college basketball during that year. A Hall of Fame Coach, Clair Bee’s impact on the sport of basketball, particularly at the collegiate level, still resounds.

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