December 3, 2007
By David Driver
For the News & Messenger
Used with permission
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Dre Smith jumped in the air near midcourt, and most fans would have expected him to launch a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer Sunday.
The Mason guard, after all, had made four 3-pointers in the game, and had seven in one game in the CAA tournament last season.
But for some reason Smith passed the ball to Jordan Carter as the final buzzer sounded, and East Carolina escaped with a 68-65 win at the Verizon Center in the BB&T Classic. Carter never got a shot off, and even if he had it would have been after the buzzer.
"I saw a had a second left. I saw Jordan. I felt he had a better look than I did," Smith said.
Smith, who had a team-high 16 points off the bench, certainly wasn't the reason for one of Mason's most disappointing regular-season losses in a long time.
It was the first Division I win of the season for East Carolina, which was picked to finish last in Conference USA by some publications. Mason trailed by 12 points early in the second half, but led by five with 7:38 left in the contest.
"This will be a wakeup call more than anything," said Mason's Louis Birdsong, who had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Mason was coming off an 85-38 win at home Thursday against Drexel in the first CAA game of the season.
The loss was even more painful for the Patriots, who had players from CAA rival VCU run past them in the hallway after the game as the Rams headed to the court to face Maryland in the last of three games.
"I thought Verizon Center was a good luck place for us after our performance here in the 2006 Sweet 16 and Elite Eight," said Mason head coach Jim Larranaga, "but we've played here now twice since then and have yet to play a 40-minute game.
"We dug ourselves a terrible hole in the first half and then battled back and finally took the lead, but we were not able to finish it," he added. "We had some guys in foul trouble, which obviously hurt and we weren't executing at either end of the floor like we want to or expect to."
Will Thomas had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Mason, which fell to 6-2. James Legan, a reserve, had 18 points for the Pirates (3-4) and Darrell Jenkins had 11 points and 10 assists.
A basket by Birdsong gave Mason a 62-60 lead with 3:38 left in the game.
Legan hit a 3-pointer with 1:04 left to give ECU a 63-62 lead. After a turnover by Mason, a dunk by Gabe Blair of the Pirates gave his team a 65-62 lead with 42 seconds to go.
Smith then made a layup to make it 65-64, and Mason called a timeout with 27.3 seconds left. John Vaughan of Mason fouled Jenkins with 21.7 left, and Jenkins missed the first free throw and made the second to make it 66-64.
Mason got the ball to Thomas, but he elected not to take the ball to the basket against man defense and the Patriots called time with 8.4 seconds left.
John Fields of ECU fouled Thomas with 5.0 seconds to go, and Thomas missed the first three throw and made the second to cut the ECU lead to 66-65. After a timeout by ECU, the Pirates got the ball to Brock Young on the inbounds play and he was fouled with 2.7 left.
Young made both free throws to account for the final score, and Mason could not get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
Larranaga was upset with the play of Folarin Campbell, who had just two points and three rebounds in 13 minutes of play. "You have to earn your playing time. It is unusual to have a senior not playing with more consistency," Larranaga said.
"In the first half we didn't play with any type of intensity, or anything," Birdsong said.
"I'm surprised. That is not our team. We don't play like this," Smith said.
Mason made just nine of 32 shots, 28.1 percent, in the first half, and trailed 35-23. The Patriots missed all nine shots from 3-point range in the first half.
Notes: Larranaga was an assistant coach at the University of Virginia from 1979-86 under Terry Holland, now the athletic director at ECU… The next two games for the Pirates are against ACC teams Clemson and NC State…Mason's next game is Wednesday, at home with Hampton. The Pirates beat VCU last week and earlier this season beat Tulsa, picked to finish fourth in Conference USA … ECU head coach Mack McCarthy, in four seasons as the head coach at VCU through 2002, won just two of eight games against George Mason. And his new team, East Carolina, entered Sunday with a lifetime record of 31-15 against its former CAA rival.