|George Mason can't duplicate the magic of '06, falls to Notre Dame|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 20 March 2008 23:39|
After missing the tournament in the year after their remarkable Final Four run in 2006, the Patriots returned to the NCAA's big stage Thursday night, but this time they were bounced in the first round by Notre Dame 68-50.
The fifth-seeded Fighting Irish (25-7) will face fourth-seeded Washington State (25-8) in the second round of the East Regional on Saturday at the Pepsi Center. The Cougars rode a 42-11 second-half blitz to whip Winthrop 71-40.
The other game in the Mile High City pits fourth-seeded Pittsburgh (27-9) and fifth-seeded Michigan State (26-8) in the East. Pitt crushed Oral Roberts 82-63 and the Spartans outlasted Temple 72-61 despite a sudden shooting slump from Drew Neitzel.
Luke Harangody had 18 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Irish to their first tournament victory in five years.
The 12th-seeded Patriots (23-11) had two starters left from their magical run to the Final Four in 2006, a string of games that showed little guys still can break through and turn March Madness into a true free-for-all for more than just a game or two.
One of those players, Will Thomas, had a great game - 10-for-14 for 25 points and seven rebounds, and had his head buried in a towel as the clock ran down.
Bowing out in the first round made the Patriots appreciate all the more their incredible run two years ago.
``I didn't really appreciate it until today,'' said the other starter from 2006, Folarin Campbell, who shot 1-for-12 and finished with four points.
``We played against a great team today. I mean, Notre Dame. Just to know what we did two years ago, playing Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut. I mean, I look back at that and I just see how remarkable that run was.''
The Irish said they learned a lesson last year when they were stunned by Winthrop in the opener. This time, they came in and were all business from the start.
``You know, just stuff like coming into the game, such a different atmosphere, especially in the locker room before, everyone just relaxed, knowing what to expect,'' Harangody said.
Michigan State 72, Temple 61, South Region
Shutting down Neitzel wasn't enough for Temple because Raymar Morgan led a balanced scoring attack with 15 points and the Spartans beat Temple 72-61.
Last year, Neitzel was the Spartans' only option on offense. Now, he's got scorers swarming all around. Chris Allen scored 12 points and fellow freshmen Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers each added eight.
``I was surprised by their balance,'' Temple guard Chris Clark said. ``We knew they could score. But if you would have told me before the game that we would hold Drew Neitzel to five or six points, I would say we would win the game. But Raymar Morgan and Drew Naymick stepped up. And Chris Allen. They had too many scorers, too many for us to handle.''
While the Owls were taking away Neitzel, who finished with five points on 2-of-11 shooting, the Spartans were shutting down Temple's best scorer, Dionte Christmas, who was held to three points, 17 below his average, on 1-of-12 shooting.
Mark Tyndale scored 16 points for Temple (21-13), which was making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since losing to Michigan State in a 2001 regional final.
Washington State 71, Winthrop 40, East Region
Cougars coach Tony Bennett has one of those little inspirational mottos on his desk that reads, ``There's nothing less important than the score at halftime.''
And was that ever the case Thursday night, when the Cougars and Winthrop were tied at 29 at the break before Washington State outscored the Eagles 42-11 in the second half.
Leading the breakaway was Aron Baynes, who had 19 points and eight rebounds. Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill each had 14 points and Derrick Low scored 11.
The Cougars shot a blistering 65 percent in the second half while holding the Eagles to 16 percent (4-for-24).
``The shots we were taking were good looks,'' Taj McCullough said. ``But it was like a lid was on the basket and they were bouncing out.''
Pittsburgh 82, Oral Roberts 63, South Region
Pitt won its sixth straight game and eighth of nine - a run that has coincided with the resumption of full-fledged practices that coach Jamie Dixon couldn't hold when his team was short-handed.
``Just having the full team out there ready to practice and guys knowing what they have to do now just makes everything better and much easier on the court,'' said Keith Benjamin, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Pitt is making its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance, though none of those previous teams have made it past the third round. This team looks different, though - coming off the Big East tournament championship and playing its best basketball of the season in March, for once, instead of January or February.
``It's health, the youth that we had, and the fact that we had to get better,'' Dixon explained of the recent turnaround. ``We had to play better than what we were doing.''
AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.