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Friday, March 18, 2011
Rapid Reaction: George Mason 61, 'Nova 57

By Brian Bennett

CLEVELAND -- For George Mason, it was shades of 2006. For Villanova, it was more of the same.

The Patriots won their first NCAA tournament game since their magical 2006 Final Four run with a 61-57 victory over No. 9 seed Villanova on Friday afternoon. Trailing most of the way, they closed with a flourish thanks to Luke Hancock and Mike Morrison.

Morrison's follow-up dunk with under a minute to play gave George Mason its first lead of the second half. Moments later, Hancock hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead for good. In the final seconds, Hancock picked up a loose ball and found Morrison for a breakaway dunk as the Patriots fans in Quicken Loans Arena went nuts.

Turning point: There were plenty of turning points in the final minute, but the biggest change was the improved defense George Mason played in the second half. After allowing Villanova's Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher to combine for 24 points in the first half -- and falling behind by double digits late in the half -- the Patriots started picking up the Wildcats' guards further away from the basket and making others beat them. Fisher and Stokes had only three field goals in the second half.

Key stat: Villanova went just 7-of-22 from the field and scored only 22 points in the second half. The defensive effort allowed George Mason to climb back in it despite some questionable shot selection.

Star player(s): Hancock and Morrison share the honor. Hancock finished with 18 points and five assists and hit the biggest shot for George Mason in five years. Morrison had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Miscellany: George Mason got a big lift off the bench from Johnny Williams. The forward came in averaging just 2.1 points. He made 4-of-5 shots to finish with a season-best eight points, which were crucial in a close game.

What's next: Barring an earth-shattering upset by Texas-San Antonio, George Mason will get No. 1 overall seed Ohio State on Sunday. It will be a virtual road game as Quicken Loans Arena was packed with Buckeye fans on Friday afternoon. Villanova coach Jay Wright will have to figure out what went wrong with his team, which started out 16-1 but lost 11 of its final 16 games, including the last six to end the season.