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Tar Heels knocked out early


Published: Mon, March 20, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


George Mason upset North Carolina, 65-60.
DAYTON (AP) -- Michigan State? Gone. Defending national champion North Carolina? Gone, too.
Any more questions about whether George Mason belongs in the NCAA tournament?
Didn't think so.
The upstart Patriots turned Carolina a whole different shade of blue Sunday, knocking the third-seeded Tar Heels out with a 65-60 victory that set up a mid-major matchup in the round of 16.
George Mason (25-7) will play Wichita State Friday in the Washington Regional semifinals, pitting the Colonial Athletic Association against the Missouri Valley's regular season champion. The Patriots won 70-67 at Wichita State last month.
"There's been talk about the Missouri Valley all year," said Lamar Butler, who led the Patriots with 18 points. "Hardly anyone has talked about the CAA. It's hard to believe we're both in the Sweet 16."
Pedigree programs home
Not for Michigan State or Carolina, the two pedigree programs that got upset -- if that's the right term -- by an at-large team from an overlooked league.
George Mason is the first Colonial Athletic team to make the round of 16 since Richmond did it in 1988, and only the third overall.
This group has everything it takes to play with the big boys. That was coach Jim Larranaga's message to his green-uniformed team before the opening tip.
"The last comment I made to them was, 'What color is kryptonite?' " Larranaga said. "They said, 'Green.' I said, 'Look at your jerseys. You have everything you need to win this game.' "
Anything but super
Carolina showed it wasn't anything like the super team that won the NCAA tournament last year. The Tar Heels (23-8) lost their top seven scorers from that team, forcing coach Roy Williams to use four freshmen much more than he'd prefer.
Three of them were on the floor at various times Sunday, and played down to their age for the first time since early in the season.
"We're going to cry about it, be sad, but it just wasn't our time," said senior forward David Noel, who was on the floor for the final seconds of last year's title game.
Nimble forwards Will Thomas and Jai Lewis dominated up front, and the Patriots shocked the Tar Heels by going to a newly installed zone defense in the first half to climb out of a 16-2 hole.
In the second half, the Patriots went back to their man-to-man and beat the Tar Heels straight up, making most of the clutch shots. Their poise and balance helped them make a point.
"I think a lot of experts expected them to dominate us," Larranaga said. "We have enough faith and confidence in ourselves that we're not listening to the experts and the so-called prognosticators."
Carolina faded down the stretch, missing four straight shots and repeatedly fouling. George Mason went 9-of-12 at the line in the final three minutes to pull away.
It was yet another second-round stunner for Williams, who suffered one of his worst in the same arena 16 years ago.
His Kansas team was considered a title contender in 1992, but got knocked off by Texas-El Paso in the second round.
Williams was so upset as it wound down Sunday that he picked up his folding chair and slammed it down courtside. He tried everything, even yelling at his team during a timeout to try to fire it up. Nothing worked.
He also made a significant coaching mistake, putting his team in a press during a late timeout because he thought Carolina was down by three. Instead, the score was tied at 54. George Mason broke the press and Butler was fouled, going to the line for two free throws that put the Patriots ahead to stay.
Williams sniffled while he recounted his late-game blunder. Then, he thought about what his young team had accomplished.
"They're an unbelievable group of kids that took me for a great ride," Williams said.


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