No late-game heroics were necessary Monday.
Playing for the fourth-straight day, the Tribe ran out of steam in its first-ever CAA championship game appearance, falling 68-59 to George Mason University.
The loss dropped the College to 17-16 — its first winning record since the 1997-1998 season. Meanwhile, Mason’s win earned the Patriots (23-10) an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought down to the very end we weren’t real good today,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “I’ll credit them with that. [They’re] tough to score on [and] tough to stop.”
The Tribe started coldly Monday, hitting four of its first 12 shots and only one of seven three-pointers. With the College struggling early, the Patriots built an early lead and pushed it to eight three times in the first half. After leading 19-11, the Patriots traded baskets with the Tribe before an 11-4 College run cut the lead to one at 25-24 with 3:23 remaining.
During the run, senior forward Laimis Kisielius hit two treys, while sophomore guard David Schneider sank one of his own and senior guard Nathan Mann buried a jumper from just inside the arc. The Tribe’s spurt forced Mason Head Coach Jim Larranaga to use a 30-second timeout and electrified the College’s fans.
Following the timeout, Patriot guard John Vaughan committed a turnover, but the College failed to answer on the other end, as Kisielius misfired on a three-pointer and Mason guard Cam Long rejected sophomore forward Danny Sumner’s lay-up. However, another Vaughan turnover gave the Tribe the final shot of the half and Kisielius sank a fall-away baseline jumper as time expired to send the College into the locker room down 27-26.
Any momentum Kisielius gave his team faded quickly after halftime, as the Patriots started hot, scoring the half’s first nine points and finishing an 11-2 run that put Mason ahead 38-28 just over four minutes into the second half. For the next 11 minutes, the Patriots controlled the game, answering nearly every Tribe basket and maintaining its working margin.
After Mason forward Will Thomas scored on a lay-in with 4:44 remaining, Kisielius connected on his final three-pointer of the game, cutting the deficit to seven at 54-47 and giving the Tribe another shot in the arm. A missed jumper by tournament MVP Folarin Campbell gave the College another opportunity to chip away at the Mason lead, but Schneider’s runner in the lane missed everything and the Tribe failed to score for three minutes down the stretch, securing the Patriots its first CAA title since 2001.
“When we’ve been good – really good as a ballclub – we’ve had three, four or five guys in double figures and we really couldn’t get others going tonight,” Shaver said. “No one guy can carry our team.”
Mason seniors Thomas and Campbell kept the Patriots ahead with free throws in the game’s final minutes, derailing any Tribe hopes of another last-second miracle.
Kisielius finished with a game-high 22 points, while Schneider and Sumner contributed 12 and 10 points respectively. Each earned a spot on the All-Tournament team, joining Mason’s Thomas and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Eric Maynor.
Campbell led the Patriots with 20 points, and Thomas provided 18 points to go along with 13 rebounds.