George Mason hopes for another Cinderella story against Ohio St.
The magical March run, the one that changed everything for George Mason, the one that made every mid-major program and player puff their chests with pride and forever tilted college basketball’s axis, just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Given little chance, the underdog Patriots of the Colonial Athletic Association knocked off three elite schools on their way to the Final Four.
Jared Sullinger, then a chubby eighth grader with hoop dreams of his own, was in the stands at Dayton Arena when George Mason dropped superpower North Carolina to its knees.
“That kind of introduced everybody to them,” Ohio State’s freshman center said Saturday. “They were the Cinderella that year.”
Look who’s back at the ball?
George Mason, a name that instantly instills fear in the hearts and minds of any favorite, can enhance its well-deserved reputation as a giant slayer on Sunday when it meets another behemoth — overall No. 1 seed Ohio State — in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Once again, the odds are stacked high against the Patriots.
They’re taking on The Ohio State University.
“Lots of people disrespect us, say we’re going to lose and stuff” said George Mason guard Andre Cornelius. “I don’t care about being the underdog. I just want to make a statement. I just want to come out there and beat them and shut everybody up.”
The eighth-seeded Patriots (27-6), who have won 17 of 18, are trying to retrace the unplanned trip made by George Mason’s 2006 team, which beat Michigan State, North Carolina and second-seeded Connecticut before eventually losing to Florida in the national semifinals at Indianapolis.
While respecting the players who wore George Mason’s gold and green before them, this year’s team intends to make history of its own.
Guard Luke Hancock, whose 3-pointer with 21 seconds left rallied the Patriots to a 61-57 second-round win over Villanova on Friday, said he and his teammates have been hammered nonstop with questions about the unexpected journey that put the Fairfax, Va., school on the map.
“Anything we do, we’re compared,” he said. “But we’re trying to make our own name, trying to do our own thing. We’d like people to be talking about us instead of the ’06 team.”
That point was reinforced at Friday’s postgame news conference, when forward Mike Morrison held up one of the T-shirts handed out to the team last week.
On the back it says: “We ARE this year’s George Mason.”