George Mason goes to the RAC to keep hopes alive in CBI tournament

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Small campus building hosts must-win game

After losing Monday night at Santa Clara, George Mason plays to stay alive in the College Basketball Invitational on Wednesday night. In the best-of-three series, the Patriots will look for some old-school inspiration at the Recreation Athletic Complex, which last hosted a George Mason basketball game 28 years ago.

In a gym that seats 1,500, the atmosphere will be completely different from that at the 10,000-seat Patriot Center, which was booked long ago for a college fair.

Former George Mason player John Niehoff (1980-84), who ranks in the top 10 in career steals and assists, looks forward to the Patriots' return to the RAC. Now a season ticket-holder, Niehoff requested four tickets for Wednesday night and it came with a warning from the school that noise levels will be high.

CBI finals
Santa Clara at George Mason
When » Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Recreation Athletic Complex, Fairfax, Va.

"They suggested earplugs," Niehoff said. "After so many years in the Patriot Center, it will be interesting to see them play in the RAC. It should be a great night."

Games that George Mason hosted the previous two rounds of the CBI drew a total of 3,728. But instead of a mostly-empty building on Wednesday, the gym at the RAC will be full.

Former George Mason radio announcer Ric Wilson expects the Patriots to respond in a smaller facility. As a guard at GMU from 1982 to 1986, he played at both the Patriot Center and the RAC -- then named the Physical Education Building.

"Quite frankly, I would have been fine not playing in the Patriot Center at all," Wilson said. "When we played at the P.E. Building, it felt like Cameron Indoor. You can't defeat us in that place. It was so intimate."

That facility is now named John Linn Memorial Gymnasium. It still is active and contained at the other end of the RAC. It had a capacity of 2,800 before seats were removed as part of the RAC's expansion and renovation, which was completed in 2009.

George Mason (21-15) will count on fan support to help even the score on Santa Clara (25-11) and take the series to a deciding game Friday night at Patriot Center.

The Patriots will need better work from top scorer Sherrod Wright (16.3 points per game) than they got in Monday's 81-73 loss. The junior guard missed all six of his attempts from the floor and was outscored 28-3 by standout Broncos guard Kevin Foster.

The Patriots led midway through the first half behind junior forward Jonathan Arledge (21 points, eight rebounds). But the Broncos went on a 16-1 run and never trailed the rest of the way. Freshman Patrick Holloway came off the bench and scored all of his 17 points in the final 15:11 as George Mason whittled a 13-point deficit to two points before Foster and Santa Clara resumed control.

Wilson expects the raucous atmosphere to be the equalizer on Wednesday.

"When we were in the P.E. Building, it was super tight. It was really intense. It was easy to get up for games," Wilson said. "It was a tough, tough place [for opponents] to play."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner