The salve for skittish fans of a team entering the NCAA tournament on a five-game skid is to blast out to a 20-point lead, run away with the game, get everybody involved, get everyone feeling good about themselves. Players, coaches, fans.
As Homey The Clown would say, Villanova don't play that.
By now we should all understand that. But we should also understand that losing streaks are built on little things, and cured by them too. And once again, the little things doomed 'Nova.
Mouphtaaou missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with the score tied at 54. George Mason's Mike Morrison slammed in an offensive rebound with 54.7 seconds left to give Mason a two-point lead. Three free throws by Corey Fisher regained that lead but Luke Hancock, perhaps the best player on the Quicken Loans Arena court, buried a long three-pointer with 19.8 seconds left, and the ensuing 'Nova possession had all the trappings of their six-game skid.
Panic. Indecision. And yet when GMU's Ryan Pearson was tied up lying on his back with a rebound, the 'Cats had one last shot. With 9.1 seconds left.
A miss, an offensive rebound, a resounding dunk on the other end.
Tell me if you've heard this before. George Mason advances with a 61-57 victory.
It was their largest lead of the game.
Before the final two minutes, GMU had led just once, at 7-6 - after 5 minutes, 23 seconds of play! Both teams started slow, trading bricks over the early minutes. Corey Fisher's three-point play following a timeout pushed Villanova ahead, and they painstakingly built on that for the rest of the half. Their largest lead was 10 at 31-21, but the Patriots whittled that down to four before Antonio Pena's short jumper with seven seconds remaining gave Nova a 35-29 halftime lead.
The half ended with Hancock driving wildly into the lane, banging a shot off the backboard, then getting banged by an errant Yarou elbow. The 6-10 sophomore finished the half with 11 of the 'Cats' 20 rebounds. Their 20-14 advantage was also the margin of their halftime lead, supplying both opportunity and confidence to the outside games of Fisher and Corey Stokes. They had 22 of Villanova's first 23 points, pushing them to a 23-15 lead with just under 12 minutes played.
But the 'Cats could not shake George Mason, largely due to the calming generalship of Hancock, who was playing with a bandaged left shoulder and was seen occasionally hopping on an ankle sprained earlier in the week.
Hancock finished with 18 points.
Villanova, despite three senior starters, finished their once-promising season sharing with their fans the eyes of disbelief. *