RICHMOND, Va. - Top-seeded VCU staged a dramatic comeback in the final two minutes and defeated #6 George Mason 65-59 in the title game of the 2007 Aeropostale CAA Men’s Basketball Championship before a sell-out crowd of 11,200 at the Richmond Coliseum Monday night.

 

2007 CAA Champs VCU

One year after capturing the imagination of the college basketball world with a miraculous run to the Final Four, Mason looked primed to become the first team in league history to win four games in four days by taking a 57-52 advantage with just 2:22 remaining. However, the Rams’ Eric Maynor would have no part of it.

 

The first-team All-CAA guard single-handedly spurred a 9-0 run all by himself on his way to a 20-point, championship Most Outstanding Player-performance.

 

The top-seeded Rams (27-6) earned the CAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with the win, which was its second in the past four years. George Mason, which was the first six-seed to make the championship game since James Madison in 1997, fell to 18-15 despite nearly pulling off its third upset in three days.

 

The conference couldn’t have asked for a closer contest in the final, which was a rematch of the 2004 title game that also  featured a gut-wrenching outcome (55-54) in VCU’s favor. Monday’s final was played before a sell-out crowd for the first time in league history, and the battle between the cheering contingents in the stands was just as intense as the action on the court.

VCU Crowd Storms the court.

 

The game was a back-and-forth physical battle, one that was tied at 52 apiece with just over three minutes remaining. At the 2:57 mark, Mason’s Will Thomas muscled home an improbable dunk while getting fouled, and converted the ensuing free throw to complete the three-point play. Teammate Folarin Campbell drained a pair of his own free throws at 2:22 to give the Patriots a five-point lead, and seemingly, the game’s final momentum swing. It was then that Maynor took over the show.

 

The sophomore, who headed up the Rams’ full-court trapping press throughout the game, made a steal in the backcourt and converted a lay-up while getting fouled by Mason’s Gabe Norwood with 1:54 remaining. His free-throw try was true, and the Patriots’ lead was cut to two, 57-55. As Norwood began to dribble up the floor on the next  possession, Maynor quickly snatched the ball again, and tied the game at 57 with a lay-up.

Mason Coach Jim Larranaga

Following a Mason timeout, the VCU defense forced Campbell into an errant three-point attempt as the shot clock expired - a miss that Maynor gathered in as part of his seven rebounds on the night. He then drove the lane to hit an off-balance jumper with 45 seconds remaining, putting VCU up 59-57.

 

Mason had a chance to tie on a Campbell layup, but Wil Fameni swatted it into the Patriots’ student-section with 30 ticks left. Dre Smith then missed a three-pointer off the inbounds pass, and Maynor grabbed the board before being intentionally fouled. He drained the two free throws with 19 seconds on the clock to cap his personal 9-0 run and give the Rams a 61-57 lead.

 

A Norwood jumper was sandwiched by four B.A. Walker free throws to reach the final score.

 

VCU Coach Anthony Grant

The win completed a three-game sweep on the season for the Rams over the Patriots. VCU won 75-62 on Jan. 24 in Fairfax, and 63-49 on Feb. 8 in Richmond. The 27 wins for VCU is a school-record, and is the third-ever CAA championship for the Rams. All three titles have come after being the league’s top team in the regular season, and this year’s win extended a five-year streak in which the league champion has been a No. 1 seed.

 

The first half was a see-saw physical battle, as the two squads slugged it out to an intermission score of 31-27 in Mason’s favor. Although the teams shot a combined 50 percent in the half, the score was tied at just 13 with under eight minutes to go after VCU used its full-court defense to hurry the Patriots, and Mason forced the Rams to settle for a 1-7 performance from the arc due to an in-your-jersey style of defense. The Rams took their first lead of the game at 7:38 on a Maynor free throw, and the scoring picked up from there to the tune of six ties and four lead changes. Mason took the four-point lead into the half after embarking on a 10-4 run over the last three minutes.

 

Folarin Campbell, Mason

For the game, Maynor tallied four assists and three steals to go with his 20 points and seven rebounds. He was joined by three other Rams in double-figures, and Fameni tallied 13 – including 11 in the first half – to go with eight rebounds. Fellow big-man Calvin Roland picked up the slack in the second stanza, netting 10 of his 12 after the half. Walker chipped in 10 including a 6-of-6 performance from the free throw line.

 

George Mason was paced by Smith, who had 12 points on 5-of-13 shopoting. He drained a pair of three-pointers to total 14 in the Patriots’ four-games, a mark that stands as the new tournament record. Thomas and Norwood each tallied 10 points apiece.

 

Joining Maynor on the All-Tournament Team were teammates Michael Anderson and Jesse Pellot-Rosa, in addition to Mason’s Campbell and Smith, and Drexel’s Frank Elegar.