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Men’s Basketball: Irish shut down George Mason

Chris Khorey | Friday, March 21, 2008

DENVER – It wasn’t how Notre Dame won games all season, but it worked Thursday.

The No. 5 seed Irish needed just 68 points to dispatch with No. 12 seed George Mason 68-50 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Denver, Colorado.

Notre Dame (21-7), who scored an average of 80 points while giving up 70 during the regular season, played lock-down defense in a slow-paced game, holding the Patriots (23-11) to 21 points in the first half and 33 percent from the field.

Irish coach Mike Brey said the slow pace was not originally in Notre Dame’s game plan.

“We like to get out and go and run the floor,” he said. “The pace of how they play lends itself to that kind of tempo.”

Forward Will Thomas was George Mason’s only offensive threat, scoring 25 of its 50 points on 10-14 shooting from the field.

“With Thomas, as long they’re twos, I felt we could score enough [to overcome him],” Brey said.

The rest of the Patriots shot a combined 9-for-43 from the floor and none of them scored more than seven points.

Irish forwards Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland held Patriots guard Folarin Campbell, who averaged nearly 16 points per game in the regular season, to just four points and 1-for-12 shooting.

“They put a bigger guy on me and made it hard for me to get the ball,” Campbell said. “Most of my shots were contested.”

Sophomore forward Luke Harangody led Notre Dame with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Hillesland also added 11 boards as the Irish out-rebounded the Patriots 42-34.

It was the first time since Feb. 21 against Pittsburgh that Notre Dame out-rebounded an opponent.

“I thought we did a great job chasing down long rebounds,” Brey said. “We were quick to the ball on the defensive end.”

Guard Kyle McAlarney, with 15 points, and Ayers, with 12 points, were also in double figures for the Irish.

After a back and forth first few minutes, Notre Dame went on a 17-0 run to open up a 23-7 lead with 11:11 left in the first half. The Patriots went more than six minutes without scoring.

George Mason made a little run at the end of the half, closing to within 12 at 33-21 at the break.

After a layup by Thomas just after the half, the Patriots suffered through another scoring drought, this time three minutes long. During that span, Notre Dame increased its lead to 40-23.

George Mason switched to a full court press with 14 minutes left in the game, speeding up the pace of the game. They couldn’t close the deficit, however, and found themselves down by 19 at 55-36 with 10:24 left and the Irish cruised to victory.

The victory was the first for Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament since the second round in 2003. The Irish were upset by Winthrop in the first round last season and did not qualify for the Big Dance in 2004, 2005, or 2006.

With the win, Notre Dame moves on to face No. 4 seed Washington State Saturday in the second round. The Cougars defeated the No. 13 seed Eagles Thursday.