Va. Commonwealth Ends George Mason's Run


Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 7:48 am
By: News On 6


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Eric Maynor made two big steals in a row and scored nine straight points in the final 2 minutes as Virginia Commonwealth erased a five-point deficit in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament with a 65-59 victory against last year's favorite underdogs, George Mason.

So it's the Rams (27-6) who will carry the banner for the CAA this year, careful not to measure themselves against what the Patriots did when they went from at-large entry to the Final Four, beating traditional powers Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut before losing to eventual national champion Florida in the semifinals.

``What Mason did last year was special,'' said first-year Rams coach Anthony Grant, a member of Billy Donovan's staff at Florida last season. ``I don't think anybody on our team right now is trying to duplicate or be what George Mason was. I think we're content being VCU and who we are, and we're going to make our own way.''

Also earning automatic NCAA bids were Gonzaga, which won the West Coast Conference tournament, and Niagara, which won Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference final.

After losing several key players from last year's team, George Mason made another improbable push this postseason _ winning three times as the No. 6 seed at Richmond Coliseum.

The Patriots' inability to contain the sophomore at the end ended their run.

``For about 36 minutes, we were in control of the game,'' George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. ``Then Eric Maynor stepped up and made huge defensive plays and converted those into layups. He proved tonight that he's a big-time player.''

Maynor stripped Dre Smith, scored on a layup and was fouled with 1:55 left. He finished the three-point play, then stole the ball again before it crossed halfcourt and made a layup to tie it with 1:46 to go. After a miss by the Patriots, he drove into the lane and made the go-ahead leaner over Darryl Monroe with 46.5 seconds to go.

``I got into a zone and was able to make a couple of big plays,'' the soft-spoken point guard said. ``Coach had told us we were alright and that our time would come and he didn't think it had come yet. I think maybe it came in the last 2 minutes.''

After the Rams' Wil Fameni swatted away a shot from in close by Folarin Campbell, Maynor rebounded a missed 3-pointer and was intentionally fouled with 19.1 seconds left. He made both free throws, giving the Rams a 61-57 lead, and it was over.

After the final buzzer, hundreds of VCU fans joined the celebration on court.

With an 18-15 record, George Mason has virtually no chance of receiving an at-large bid to the field of 65 when the NCAA brackets are announced Sunday.

The Rams are heading to the tournament for the first time since they won the CAA title in 2004, also with a nailbiter victory against the Patriots. The CAA also is hoping Old Dominion and Drexel receive strong consideration for at-large invitations.

Maynor scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and added seven rebounds and four assists. He was selected the tournament MVP. Fameni added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Calvin Roland scored a season-high 12 for VCU, 10 in the second half.

The Patriots got 12 points from Smith and 10 each from Gabe Norwood and Will Thomas, but George Mason was outscored 13-2 in the final 2:22 as Maynor took over.

West Coast Conference

Gonzaga 77, Santa Clara 68

At Portland, Ore., Derek Raivio scored 28 points and Gonzaga wrapped up its ninth consecutive NCAA tournament bid.

The top-seeded Bulldogs (23-10), who finished the regular season one game ahead of Santa Clara in the WCC, have won eight of the last nine WCC tournaments.

Scott Dougherty led Santa Clara (21-10) with 16 points.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Niagara 83, Siena 79

At Bridgeport, Conn., Tyrone Lewis scored a career-high 24 points and Clif Brown had 14 points and 16 rebounds for Niagara, which will make its second trip to the NCAA tournament in three years.

Niagara won its 11th straight game and avenged a pair of regular season losses to the Saints (20-12). Alex Franklin scored 27 points for Siena.