CLEVELAND (AP) — George Mason has another fantastic March story to tell. Luke Hancock hit a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, capping the Patriots’ comeback and keeping the one-time NCAA tournament darlings playing with a 61-57 win over Villanova on Friday.
Villanova missed its last shot and Mike Morrison slammed home one final basket for the Patriots (27-6), who will play Ohio State or Texas-San Antonio on Sunday in the East region.
This was the latest and last collapse for the Wildcats (21-12), who end the season on a six-game losing streak. They were once ranked as high as No. 5 but failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Hancock scored 18 points, and Morrison had 10 points and 11 rebounds for George Mason, which won its opening tournament game for the first time since its Final Four run in 2006.
The eighth-seeded Patriots trailed by 10 in the first half only to inch their way back.
Isaiah Tate popped George Mason’s first 3 of the second half with 1:57 left to make it 54-51, and the Wildcats crumbled from the free-throw line. Antonio Pena missed two and Mouphtaou Yarou clanked the front end of a one-and-one.
Morrison took advantage, dunking in a miss with 55 seconds left for George Mason’s first lead since early in the game.
Corey Fisher drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and made all of them for a 57-56 lead.
Hancock, his left shoulder taped and bandaged, showed no concern about any injury. He took a couple hard dribbles to his right, as if he was going to drive the lane for the go-ahead basket, then stopped right in his tracks. He crossed over and stepped back, then calmly knocked down the 3-pointer from a foot beyond the arc on the right wing.
The crowd filled to the rafters with Ohio State fans – most of them surely recalling George Mason’s sizzling run of a few years ago – roared in approval.
Fisher finished with 20 points and Corey Stokes had 14 for Villanova, but each went cold in the final 20 minutes after a great first half that rekindled memories of a 16-1 start to the season. The Wildcats ended up winning their final game on Feb. 19.
They went the final 3:28 without a field goal.
George Mason won its first NCAA tournament game since it knocked off Connecticut in the 2006 regional final, a run that coach Jim Larranaga said he never tires of talking about.
He’s got a new story now.
George Mason can still become this year’s George Mason – although as a single-digit seed for the first time in program history, a run through March as the tournament’s favorite mid-major will be a tougher sell.
That’s fine with the Patriots, who just want to keep this rolling.
Villanova began the game like the team that was ranked No. 5 in the country, not the one that took a nose-dive in the second half of the season. Fisher and Stokes worked their way open and swished 3s as easy as free throws.
Fisher scored 11 straight points and Stokes followed that run with three straight 3s. The two Coreys scored 22 of Villanova’s first 23 points and helped them to a 10-point lead.
Yarou scored the first non-Corey field goal with 6:55 left in the first half.
Stokes missed a late 3, but Fisher bounced on a loose ball rebound and tossed up a floater to keep it a nine-point lead for Villanova. But unlike Michigan’s rout over Tennessee, this was no 8-9 mismatch. On the brink of falling into trouble, the Patriots cranked the defensive pressure and hit free throws that help get them to 35-29 at halftime.
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