Saturday, February 23, 2008

BB liveblog: George Mason at Ohio

He sings the songs that remind of the good times, he sings the songs that remind him of the best times...

So this is the second entry in today's miniature "MAC-Colonial Challenge," with the CAA having taken the opener. Even less on the line NCAAs-wise than in the BB opener--neither of these teams has an at-large prayer--but I'm stoked to see the George Mason heroes from two years ago again. It must be what it was like for hockey fans to see Eruzione and Craig take the ice in 1983 or something.

1:09 p.m. Away we go, and George Mason has broken out the retina-searing "gold" (or as I prefer to think of this color, "stale butter") jerseys for the occasion. I realize you can't really wear green in Ohio's gym since the Bobcats also wear green, but ... these jerseys were a mistake the day they were stitched. Sorry, Patriots.

1:13 p.m. The first few minutes fly by and GMU leads 9-2 at the first TV timeout. Patriots looking very smooth on offense. After the last game, it's a welcome change.

1:17 p.m. GMU really looking to push after Ohio misses. Fortunately for them, guys like Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas can throw a hell of an outlet pass. Hasn't led to much the last couple of attempts, though. Still, they're up 12-5 ... Ohio a touch cold to open.

1:20 p.m. Tough call on Vlad Moldoveanu as he tries to stop an Ohio break and gets whistled for a block. These are CAA refs (visiting team brings the officials), but calls like those will get rid of any accusations of bias toot sweet. Jordan Carter and his magnificent fro get called for a 10-second violation (Ewwww) and Ohio pulls within 12-11 on a three. Crowd making noise.

1:23 p.m. Because if there's one thing George Mason needed, it was another smooth-as-silk 3/4 who can glide to the basket and finish, sophomore Louis Birdsong drives and scores with what looks like less than a maximum amount of effort. It sparks a quick 5-0 spurt for Mason and they're back up six.

1:30 p.m. Hmm, haven;t mentioned any Ohio guys by name yet. So I'll point out that it was No. 6 Bubba Walther (his name is Bubba!) who throws a bullet pass to the fans sitting behind the Ohio stanchion to hand the ball back to the Patriots. Campbell steals the ball on the Bobcat's next possession and forces a foul to prevent the breakaway dunk. With the exception of that one two-minute stretch, Ohio has looked less than sharp on offense. 18-11 GMU.

1:31 p.m. Mason makes four passes and never lets the ball touch the floor as they go from the backcourt to a layup. Pretty, pretty stuff. The announcers mention they're shooting 67 percent from the floor and on cue they drain a three. 23-11. It's been a clinic the last few possessions.

1:34 p.m. Ohio turns it over, it's a layup on the other end. And Will Thomas is owning the glass, they're one-and-done. Now Jerome Tillman misses a dunk. Not exactly going the home team's way at the moment, to put things mildly.

1:36 p.m. They've been running the newest DirecTV "movie character talks to the audience about DirecTV" advertisement on a continuous loop so far today. In this one, Kathy Bates's psycho from "Misery" takes a moment right before "hobbling" that actor whose name I can never remember to plug DirecTV. Look, I know it's a memorable moment from a memorable movie and all, but ... do you really want your product associated with one of the most grisly, hard-to-watch scenes I can think of? Do you really want it endorsed by a psychopath? I dunno, they probably have focus groups who loved it. Sigh.

1:39 p.m. Silly, out-of-control charge by Walther. Mason in total control, 28-11. Looks from the wide-angle shot like Ohio got a really, really nice crowd out for this one, and Mason has come in and icily shut them up completely. They're up 28-13 and John Vaughan (*the Auburn fan shudders*) is at the line.

1:42 p.m. Leon Williams (6-8 senior, probably Ohio's highest-profile player), gets a nice entry pass, turns, and scores. Campbell turns it over on the other end and I guess I should point out the game isn't exactly completely finished yet. I guess.

1:44 p.m. Wiiiiiiiiide open three for Ohio following a sweet Walther pass doesn't connect. That would have been nice.

1:46 p.m. Bleah. Campbell loses the ball trying for a reverse, it flies into the air as Campbell falls hard and stays down for a minute, and as he lies there the Ohio fans chant "airball." I know hoping for gentlemanly behavior from college student sections is always going to be more pointless than a brand-new pencil, but still, wait until the guy gets up, please.

1:50 p.m. Ohio's trimmed the lead a bit to 32-19 with less than a minute left in the half. Birdsong checks in and the play-by-play guy says "he's not a big guy, just 6-6, 230," which shows you that even at the mid-major level, the distorting effect of the game on players' heights is severe. Because I'm pretty sure that if you saw 6-6, 230 Louis Birdsong anywhere besides a basketball court, "not a big guy" is about the last thing you'd think.

1:52 p.m. 32-19 at the half, and on a personal note, it's time for lunch.

2:08 p.m. We're back!

2:10 p.m. In retrospect, my return from halftime wasn't really worth an exclamation point. Neither, to this point, has the teams' return: they come up emtpy for the first 1:30 of the half until Williams connects.

2:12 p.m. The little things that could really get Ohio back into this game (like that missed open three earlier) are still going against them. This time a Bobcat grabbed a rebound only to lose his footing after coming down for a travel. Still GMU by 11.

2:13 p.m. Bubba Walther (Bubba!) drills a long three and it's officially a game again ... another three by Walther! The crowd goes bonkers! Timeout GMU! His name is Bubba!

2:16 p.m. Not sure if it's a national ad or local, but we're getting a spot for "5-hour Energy," the hey-we're-better-than-Red-Bull-even-if-we-look-way-skeezier energy "shot" K-Dub admitted to using in his assault on the ESPN chat record yesterday. I'd just like to assure you that the JCCW all-day liveblog is running on perfectly legal coffee and any records broken will be completely legitimate.

2:20 p.m. Walther to Williams--those two have been Ohio's best players by a country mile--and it's 33-29. Mason not really running their offense--lots of jacked threes instead of getting Campbell and Thomas attacking the basket. Williams scores again and it's GMU by two. Looks like I might not have been the only person who basically thought this game was over late in the first half.

2:23 p.m. This is going to really stun you, but Larranaga was hella pissed after taking his second timeout in the space of a minute. Who'd have guessed? Big moment there--Bert Whittington (man, Ohio has some great names) missed a three that would have given them the lead and Campbell hits two freebies on the other end.

2:26 p.m. I suddenly realized I'm doing this game with the updates at the bottom of the post rather than the top, unlike the first one. Completely accidentally. Dammit.

2:30 p.m. Thomas finally gets GMU a second-half field goal after they started 0-12. Now both offenses are starting to heat up--Vaughan connects for GMU, Walther for Ohio. This has rather suddenly become a pretty gosh-darned exciting game. Still have to like GMU's experience down the stretch ... now that they've gotten the "Eh, we're up 12, I'll just launch this 25-footer rather than work it into the post" out of their system, you would think they'd be OK. You'd think.

2:32 p.m. The problem is that GMU refuses to take care of the basketball--a turnover leads to a Bobcat layup and they're down a point. Give credit to Ohio, they've been active and quick-handed, but the Patriots are also just being sloppy.

2:34 p.m. Campbell hits a three and freshman Cam Long hits a freebie to put GMU back up four. There's a shot of Larranaga and standing immediately behind him are a couple of GMU students. Um ... that's a heck of a road trip, fellas, for a non-conference game that's not really going to seal any bids the way the trip to Wichita did a couple of years ago. The JCCW salutes your dedication!

2:37 p.m. One of the cool things about springing for the cable company's "sports tier" is the wide array of regional networks who bring you random, wonderful mid-major games. For instance, the break in the GMU-Ohio game lets me check in on Northern Arizona hosting Wichita St. and old blog friend Gregg Marshall in their BracketBuster game. Wichita's up two, 29-27, in an effort to save the Missouri Valley the face they'd lose by seeing one of their highest-profile programs lose to a Big Sky also-ran. (Not that NAU is a bad team, and they have possibly the coolest nickname in all mid-majordom in "Lumberjacks.")

2:42 p.m. Back to ...wherever Ohio is (why don't I know this?) and a Thomas free throw is canceled out by Tillman slam from a Walther assist. Ohio up one again.

2:44 p.m. Vaughan scores, Mason by 1. Walther scores, Ohio by 1. We're due for a "X ties and X lead changes" comment from the crew any second now, I'd wager.

2:46 p.m. Walther and Whittington are breaking down GMU on the dribble--Tillman just got his second easy one and got the and-1 for his troubles as well. Thomas answers after another classic example of the "don't save the ball under your own basket" gaffe, getting his own and-1. 52-51 Ohio, 4:14 left.

2:48 p.m. What the hell got into Ohio in the halftime locker room? The team that jacked at will, didn't work the ball around, and generally missed even when open has been replaced by a different team that showed from tremendous, dare I say even San Antonio Spurs-esque "No, your shot is better" ball movement en route to a Whittington three. Then Walther comes up with a steal and drills a step-back transition three. Ohio's up seven!

2:51 p.m. Much as I respect the GMU seniors and shall treasure them always for their contributions to the miracle of 2006 ... yeah, Bubba "His Name is Bubba" Walther has been the best player on the court this game. Ohio doesn't score on this possession, but it's his sharp pass out of the corner that helps set up another wide-open look from three. GMU fumbles the rebound out-of-bounds. They're in more trouble than coaches whose name rhymes with "Melvin Trampson."

2:55 p.m. Williams hits his first three of the season at the shot clock buzzer. Yeah, methinks this game is over. Teams that lose don't hit Hands-of-Fate shots like that one.

2:57 p.m. Geez, that wasn't just Williams's first make, it was his first attempt from three of the year. Something tells me he's going to watch that one on film a few times. Mason responds through a Campbell three, though. They're down six.

3:01 p.m. Mason bricks a free throw and fouls Walther--who shatters no stereotypes as a scrawny white kid who is "not the guy you want to foul"--who hits both. Nine points, 65 seconds left. It's over.

3:04 p.m. The announcers are calling this a "great, great win" for Ohio, and hey, anytime you beat a team that still carries name recognition with Mr. and Mrs. Casual Fan on national television it's awfully nice and all, but ... they're not getting an at-large. The conference race is a bigger deal. The conference tourney is the only thing that really, really matters at this point. So yeah, it's awesome, but ...

3:06 p.m. ... now it's over and the students are storming the court and it's not that important. I'm super-glad BracketBusters creates this kind of atmosphere for these teams, but let's just keep it in perspective, shall we?

3:08 p.m. My final thoughts? Ohio looks precisely like the sort of team that could catch fire, win the MAC tourney, and snap into tiny pieces the NCAA hearts of Kent St. should the Golden Flashes lose to St. Mary tonight. Especially if Walther plays like that--he looked like a baller. If the Bobcats did make the NCAAs, eh, not sure. Not sure there's quite that much substance there aside from Walther and Williams.

As for GMU ... I dunno. Honestly, it seemed like Carter and Vaughan just weren't getting it done at the point--too many TOs, not enough clean sets, too much matador defense on on the other end. And it looked at times like maybe Campbell and Thomas were forcing things in response. It's weird--comparing them to VCU, you'd say GMU was the more polished and more talented team. But it was VCU that made the plays to win on the road today, and the Patriots didn't. We'll see if that's the case at the CAA tourney.

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