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George Mason advances to school's first Elite Eight

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lamar Butler dribbled out the final seconds of
George Mason's latest improbable victory, then dropped the ball and
wagged eight fingers toward a TV camera.

As in, "Round of eight, here we come!"

Butler hopped and skipped to the locker room, yelling over and
over: "We're not even supposed to be here!"

Playing a short drive from George Mason's campus, Folarin
Campbell scored 16 points and the 11th-seeded Patriots used a
shutdown defense to beat seventh-seeded Wichita State 63-55 Friday
night in a mid-major matchup, moving within one victory of the
Final Four.

"We've been trying to prove ourselves all year. We heard what
the critics were saying -- that we didn't belong in the
tournament," senior guard Tony Skinn said. "The confidence level
has risen, and we've gotten a chance to show the country what we're
capable of."

Plenty, such as denying the ball to Missouri Valley Conference
player of the year Paul Miller, who led the Shockers with 16 points
and nine rebounds, and Wichita State's second-leading scorer, Sean
Ogirri, who had all of four points on 1-for-8 shooting.

Wichita State finished 20-for-64 on field-goal attempts,
including a startling 3-for-24 on 3-pointers. The tone was set
early, as George Mason broke out to a 9-0 lead and took a 35-19
edge into halftime, thanks in large part to Wichita State's
9-for-30 shooting from the field to that point, 1-for-11 on 3s.

"As hard as I tried," Shockers coach Mark Turgeon said, "I
couldn't get them out of that funk."

How unexpected was George Mason's giddy, bracket-disrupting run
through the NCAA Tournament? The Patriots didn't receive a single
vote in this season's final AP Top 25 -- and never had won a single
game at the NCAA Tournament until last week.

But they stunned sixth-seeded Michigan State and No. 3-seeded
North Carolina, the defending national champion. George Mason's
defense was superb in those games, too, as was Campbell, a 6-foot-4
sophomore who, like the rest of the Patriots' starting five, hails
from nearby Maryland.

He averaged only 10.7 points this season, but that's up to 17.4
in the tournament. How fitting: An unheralded player lifting an
unheralded team.

"Every time we go out there," Butler said, "we feel we have
something to prove."

Butler and Skinn added 14 points apiece for the Patriots (26-7),
who will meet top-seeded Connecticut in Sunday's Washington
Regional final. UConn beat fifth-seeded Washington 98-92 in
overtime in Friday night's second game.

So now Connecticut will have to figure out a way to dent the
Patriots' tough D. They tied for eighth in Division I this season
by holding opponents under 39 percent shooting and shut down
Michigan State and North Carolina for long stretches.

"They're very well-coached. They've caused a lot of problems
for a lot of teams," said Wichita State's Kyle Wilson, who scored
12 points and helped his team make the final score respectable.

But Wichita State (26-9) just couldn't put the ball in the
bucket often enough to make a real game of it.

George Mason led by as many as 19 in the second half, and
Wichita State's offense never got going consistently. One sequence,
with about 2½ minutes left, captured the Shockers' rough night:
They got three straight offensive rebounds, but the first two
putbacks were strongly contested and didn't fall, and on the third,
P.J. Couisnard simply missed an open layup.

Wichita State started hitting some shots late, getting as close
as 62-55 on Wilson's 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. But that was
it, and George Mason held on despite shaky foul shooting, then
jumped on each other, shouted and pointed to their vocal cheering
section.

The Shockers were playing about 1,200 miles from Wichita, Kan.
George Mason's main campus, in Fairfax, Va., is about 20 miles from
the Verizon Center, where the Patriots played one "home" game
this season.

More than three hours before tipoff, dozens of George Mason fans
were milling around outside in yellow shirts, green caps, "Go
Mason" signs, and even the occasional three-cornered black hat
that's something the original Mr. Mason might have worn in the
1700s when he was writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights -- upon
which the Constitution's Bill of Rights was based.

Campbell helped get the local fans into the game, waving his
arms toward them as he ran back on defense after making each of his
first three 3-point attempts. Wichita State's first six possessions
went this way, meanwhile: two missed field goals, three turnovers
and a blocked shot.

That the Shockers and Patriots were playing at all at this stage
was a bit of vindication for mid-major schools. The Shockers
reached the regional semifinals by beating the Big East's Seton
Hall and the SEC's Tennessee, which was seeded second.

There were questions on Selection Sunday about whether the MVC
deserved all four of its NCAA invitations and whether the Patriots
belonged as an at-large choice from the Colonial Athletic
Association, in part because the team lost two of its last four
games.

That they belong is no longer in doubt. But how far can they go?

"Anything," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said, "is
possible."