George Mason University reached the Elite Eight last night with a 63-55 victory over Wichita State. This makes the Patriots the first No. 11 seed to reach a regional final since Temple did it in 2001.
George Mason will play either Connecticut or Washington in the regional finals tomorrow for a chance to play in the Final Four.
Michigan State and North Carolina €” two of basketball’s long-standing powers and competitors in last year’s final four €” were beaten back-to-back by the Patriots last weekend in Dayton, Ohio. The Patriots did to Wichita State what they did to Spartans in the first round, and what they did to Tar Heels in the final 30 minutes of their second-round game. Both teams fell, unexpectedly to the skilled ball handling techniques and the coordinated defense of the Patriots.
A team of basically unknown seniors with ability, drive, and desire can be surprisingly competitive against celebrated college athletes. Three minutes into last night’s game, George Mason had made three three-pointers and Wichita State had made nothing. The game which took place in Washington had a lot of hometown spirit, given the proximity of the Mason campus in Fairfax, Va.
The official stat sheet credited George Mason with just four steals in the first half, but it looked much worse than that. Maybe because those steals came in the first few minutes, when George Mason was turning defense into offense for that 9-0 lead. Barely two minutes into the game.
George Mason was getting whatever shot they wanted. Folarin Campbell, Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler were scoring point after point, early. The Patriots’ No. 1 and No. 3 scorers, Jai Lewis and Will Thomas, finished the first half with combined totals of two points and two turnovers, but still George Mason led 35-19.
When it was over, George Mason had won its third game of this NCAA Tournament. This was George Mason’s third win of any NCAA Tournament. The Patriots are becoming current trailblazers, as they are the only recent CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) team to reach the Elite Eight since Navy in 1986.