A valiant effort comes up short

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March 14, 2008

2:19 AM

__After three last-second wins, Tribe falls to GMU in first-ever CAA title game appearance__

p. Standing in the way of the Tribe and its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance Monday night was 2006 Final Four participant George Mason University. But after three consecutive last-second wins, including a victory over Old Dominion University and an upset of top-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University, the College seemed up for the challenge.

p. Its three-straight victories buoyed the team’s confidence after a late-season swoon that saw the Tribe drop six of its last seven games and fall out of contention for a first-round bye, as its long-range shooting suffered.

p. “Well, we were just saving all the makes for this weekend, I think,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said prior to the start of the tournament. “We’re counting on those going in the hole for us this weekend.”

p. The Tribe proved Shaver right in its first game, though the shots fell late in the contest.

p. The College’s tournament run started a week ago Friday when the fifth-seeded Tribe arrived at the Richmond Coliseum and met Georgia State University in a matinee matchup. For most of the game, it seemed as though the College would bow out in the first round of yet another CAA tournament, but the Tribe hung around thanks to the efforts of sophomores David Schneider and Danny Sumner. Sumner kept the College in the game, displaying his versatility while compiling 17 points. Meanwhile, Schneider saved the Tribe, scoring the College’s last eight points, including the game-winning three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left. Schneider’s shot catapulted the Tribe to its fourth-ever victory in the 23-year history of the CAA Tournament and sent the College into the quarterfinals to face ODU.

p. In Saturday’s quarterfinal, the Tribe team that played Friday had transformed into a more efficient unit offensively, as Sumner continued to showcase his talents and boost the College. Senior forward Laimis Kisielius provided the Tribe with additional offense and his classmate Nathan Mann proved to be the difference-maker late despite recent shooting struggles. Mann hit two critical three-pointers down the stretch to spur the Tribe’s victory. His trey with 7.5 seconds left came after Head Coach Tony Shaver called a play designed for seniors Kisielius and Mann. The two executed it to perfection, as Kisielius recorded the assist on Mann’s game-winning three-pointer.

p. “I couldn’t be happier for him to knock in that last shot,” Shaver said. “And we went to him the last play. We ran a play that involved our two seniors and they made the play to win the ballgame for us.”

p. Mann’s trey launched his team into a new world – Sunday at the CAA Tournament. Not since 1997 had the College made the semifinals and not since 2002 had the Tribe defeated its Sunday opponent VCU.

p. But none of that much mattered as the College showed the same patience offensively and intensity defensively that helped them scalp the Monarchs Saturday. And with the game on the line again, the Tribe delivered. This time Kisielius had the honors, banking home a six-foot leaner with 3.0 seconds remaining that sent the Tribe faithful into euphoria and VCU’s home crowd into shock.

p. Not only did Kisielius’s shot put the College into its first-ever CAA final, but it also sent the no. 1 seed packing, leaving the Rams out of the conference title game and marking the first time since 2000 that the top seed had not played in the final. The win also marked the only time in tournament history that the fifth-seed defeated the one-seed, allowing the Tribe to become the first fifth-seed to play in the championship game.

p. In front of an announced crowd of over 9,000 and a national television audience on ESPN, the Tribe walked onto the court Monday night with a chance at making history. The College entered the game holding the unpleasant distinction of being one of five teams with at least 50 years of NCAA Division I experience to not make the tournament.

p. True to Tribe fashion this season, however, defense kept the game close, as the College battled through bouts of poor shooting and shaky rebounding. But when shots started to fall, the game tightened. The College trailed 27-26 at intermission as Kisielius continued his torrid tournament pace, sinking a buzzer-beater jumper to end the half and netting 15 first half points. But after the break, Mason broke open a close game, using an 11-2 run to gain a foothold that it would never relinquish.

p. The Patriots led from the get-go, but the Tribe hung tough, eventually trimming the deficit to seven before Mason reclaimed its hold on the game.

p. After forty minutes, the College found itself still a member of the old non-tournament teams, falling to the Patriots 68-59.
However, the Tribe took a giant step toward erasing itself from that list this weekend, doubling its tournament win total to six and having three players – Kisielius, Schneider and Sumner – named to the All-Tournament team.

p. “I hope we create a little bit of stir at William and Mary about basketball,” Shaver said.

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