My alma mater, George Mason University, has just advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. And to think, just a few weeks ago when the March Madness brackets were announced , most college basketball fans outside of the DC area where saying, "WHO THE F*CK IS GEORGE MASON?"
P.S. I'd also like to take this opportunity to tell the GMU students who now run the once-great "Broadside" student newspaper to GET OFF YOUR KEISTER and update your damn website. I don't care if it was spring break; this is possibly the biggest story in George Mason University's short history. As of yesterday, Broadside's home page story was still displaying GMU's loss in the CAA tournament. Uhh, that was like THREE WEEKS AGO. What the hell? Ok whatever; i'm too exstatic to be angry.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lamar Butler dribbled out the final seconds of George Mason's latest improbable victory, then dropped the ball and wagged eight fingers toward a TV camera.
As in, "Round of eight, here we come!"
Playing a short drive from George Mason's campus, Folarin Campbell scored 16 points and the 11th-seeded Patriots used a shutdown defense to beat seventh-seeded Wichita State 63-55 Friday night in a mid-major matchup, moving within one victory of the Final Four.
"We've been trying to prove ourselves all year. We heard what the critics were saying -- that we didn't belong in the tournament," senior guard Tony Skinn said. "The confidence level has risen, and we've gotten a chance to show the country what we're capable of."
Plenty, such as denying the ball to Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Paul Miller, who led the Shockers with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Wichita State's second-leading scorer, Sean Ogirri, who had all of four points on 1-for-8 shooting.
Wichita State finished 20-for-64 on field-goal attempts, including a startling 3-for-24 on 3-pointers. The tone was set early, as George Mason broke out to a 9-0 lead and took a 35-19 edge into halftime, thanks in large part to Wichita State's 9-for-30 shooting from the field to that point, 1-for-11 on 3s.
"As hard as I tried," Shockers coach Mark Turgeon said, "I couldn't get them out of that funk."
How unexpected was George Mason's giddy, bracket-disrupting run through the NCAA Tournament? The Patriots didn't receive a single vote in this season's final AP Top 25 -- and never had won a single game at the NCAA Tournament until last week.
But they stunned sixth-seeded Michigan State and No. 3-seeded North Carolina, the defending national champion. George Mason's defense was superb in those games, too, as was Campbell, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who, like the rest of the Patriots' starting five, hails from nearby Maryland.
He averaged only 10.7 points this season, but that's up to 17.4 in the tournament. How fitting: An unheralded player lifting an unheralded team.
Butler and Skinn added 14 points apiece for the Patriots (26-7), who will meet top-seeded Connecticut in Sunday's Washington Regional final. UConn beat fifth-seeded Washington 98-92 in overtime in Friday night's second game. So now Connecticut will have to figure out a way to dent the Patriots' tough D. They tied for eighth in Division I this season by holding opponents under 39 percent shooting and shut down Michigan State and North Carolina for long stretches.
But Wichita State (26-9) just couldn't put the ball in the bucket often enough to make a real game of it.
George Mason led by as many as 19 in the second half, and Wichita State's offense never got going consistently. One sequence, with about 2½ minutes left, captured the Shockers' rough night: They got three straight offensive rebounds, but the first two putbacks were strongly contested and didn't fall, and on the third, P.J. Couisnard simply missed an open layup.
Wichita State started hitting some shots late, getting as close as 62-55 on Wilson's 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. But that was it, and George Mason held on despite shaky foul shooting, then jumped on each other, shouted and pointed to their vocal cheering section.
The Shockers were playing about 1,200 miles from Wichita, Kan. George Mason's main campus, in Fairfax, Va., is about 20 miles from the Verizon Center, where the Patriots played one "home" game this season.
More than three hours before tipoff, dozens of George Mason fans were milling around outside in yellow shirts, green caps, "Go Mason" signs, and even the occasional three-cornered black hat that's something the original Mr. Mason might have worn in the 1700s when he was writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights -- upon which the Constitution's Bill of Rights was based.
Campbell helped get the local fans into the game, waving his arms toward them as he ran back on defense after making each of his first three 3-point attempts. Wichita State's first six possessions went this way, meanwhile: two missed field goals, three turnovers and a blocked shot.
That the Shockers and Patriots were playing at all at this stage was a bit of vindication for mid-major schools. The Shockers reached the regional semifinals by beating the Big East's Seton Hall and the SEC's Tennessee, which was seeded second.
There were questions on Selection Sunday about whether the MVC deserved all four of its NCAA invitations and whether the Patriots belonged as an at-large choice from the Colonial Athletic Association, in part because the team lost two of its last four games.
That they belong is no longer in doubt. But how far can they go?
"Anything," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said, "is possible."