Despite living in the greater DC area, until today, I had never bothered to attend a George Mason Patriots home basketball game.
It's not terribly surprising why not; my subscription to the theory that owning a car in DC is somewhat unnecessary kinda limits my travel possibilities. Most all of the District's college basketball venues are within fairly easy reach of public transportation. The Patriot Center is most certainly not, especially when your home base is suburban Maryland. Getting to a Mason home game would mean an hour-long trip on the DC Metro, followed by 20 minutes on a Fairfax city bus, and a walk from one end of George Mason's campus to the other. Under perfect conditions. Need I tell you that public transportation is never perfect?
But looking at the schedule, it was almost too good to pass up. A noon tip, when I wasn't due into work until 4:00? And my job is on the same Metro line too, albeit 40 minutes away. It almost makes too much sense NOT to do it!
And that's how I found myself making the trek all the way to Fairfax this morning for a CAA matchup between George Mason and the William & Mary Tribe. Total travel time from my door to the Patriot Center? A cool two hours. Maybe that car thing wouldn't be such a bad idea.
In a way, I felt I was making my own mid-major pilgrimage, finally paying my respects to the team responsible for drawing so much attention to the smaller Division I conferences. While there have certainly been other teams on this side of the Red Line that have had their national success, none have seemingly managed to capture the nation's attention in quite the same way as George Mason did in 2006. Yes, Butler got to the title game in 2010, but as a fifth seed, they were already fairly well-regarded as a basketball team, even if they came from a smaller conference and less resources. Yes, VCU followed George Mason's script almost to the letter, but their accomplishments were somewhat overshadowed by Butler's unprecedented repeat run to the Final Four.
Perhaps it can be best stated like this: There's a reason that for the last five years, folks have been filling out their brackets on Selection Sunday and searching for "the next George Mason," whatever the heck that's supposed to mean.
While the cast of characters has now completely changed, after coach Jim Larranaga left in the offseason for Miami, Mason's 2006 Final Four banner still hangs proudly over the student section and the Green Machine, as if the haves had something stolen from them by the have-nots, and the have-nots are now proudly displaying it as a taunt. My eyes must have drifted over a dozen times during the game to stare at it, maybe still in some slight joyous disbelief.
Also probably in a state of disbelief was new Patriots coach Paul Hewitt. At the under-four media timeout of the first half, his team was down seven to William & Mary squad whose only wins on the year were a victory over D-III's Wesley College and a one-point squeaker at Liberty. He didn't have to worry for long, though: George Mason finished the half with a 12-4 spurt to lead by one at the break. Sixteen unanswered points to start the second half put the game out of reach, as the Tribe never came within single digits again, and Mason picked up the 70-56 win.
I headed back out into the cold, and lamented the lengthy commute I had made and was about to make again. Immediately afterwards, I wondered why I had waited so long to do it in the first place.
at GEORGE MASON 70, WILLIAM & MARY 56 01/02/2012
WILLIAM & MARY 2-13 (0-2) -- Q. McDowell 3-10 0-0 7; M. Thornton 7-13 5-6 23; M. Rum 1-3 0-0 2; K. Brown 0-3 0-2 0; T. Rusthoven 5-7 1-2 11; B. Britt 1-4 0-0 2; F. Heldring 3-4 0-0 7; T. Schalk 1-1 0-0 2; J. Boatner 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-47 6-10 56. GEORGE MASON 10-4 (2-0) -- M. Morrison 4-6 6-8 14; B. Allen 3-4 3-4 10; V. Vaughns 2-4 0-0 6; R. Pearson 5-9 1-3 11; S. Wright 0-4 3-4 3; A. Cornelius 7-10 1-1 20; J. Arledge 1-5 0-0 2; C. Edwards 1-2 0-0 2; E. Copes 1-2 0-0 2; V. Gray 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-48 14-20 70.
Three-point goals: CWM 6-20 (K. Brown 0-3; Q. McDowell 1-7; M. Rum 0-1; B. Britt 0-1; F. Heldring 1-1; T. Rusthoven 0-1; M. Thornton 4-6), GMU 8-17 (A. Cornelius 5-8; R. Pearson 0-1; V. Vaughns 2-3; S. Wright 0-1; B. Allen 1-1; J. Arledge 0-1; C. Edwards 0-1; V. Gray 0-1); Rebounds: CWM 27 (M. Rum 10), GMU 22 (M. Morrison 6); Assists: CWM 8 (B. Britt 3), GMU 18 (B. Allen 6); Total Fouls -- CWM 15, GMU 14; Fouled Out: CWM-T. Rusthoven; GMU-None.