Maynor, Sanders lift VCU into NCAA tournament

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP)—Eric Maynor and Virginia Commonwealth University are heading back to the NCAA tournament, and the stellar guard is bringing a disruptive big man along this time.

Maynor had 25 points and eight assists and Larry Sanders scored 18 points and set championship game records with 20 rebounds and seven blocks Monday night as the Rams beat George Mason 71-50 in the final of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

One year after dominating the regular season and being knocked off in the CAA semifinals, Maynor and the Rams made sure there wouldn’t be a repeat, taking command from the opening tip and cruising to an automatic NCAA bid.

“My coach, everything he tells me I listen,” Maynor said of coach Anthony Grant. “I try to do everything he tells me to do. At shootaround today he told me, `Hey, at the beginning, feels things out, get your teammates involved, make the game easier for them and stuff will open up for you.’ And as I’m out there doing it, I’m saying to myself, `Yeah, he’s right.”

It looked easy all night, too, as the two-time CAA player of the year scored or assisted on 24 of the Rams’ 30 first-half points and Sanders effectively took the Patriots’ inside scorers out of the game. He had 12 defensive rebounds and four blocks by halftime.

“My mind-set,” Sanders said, “was to try to get every rebound, to try to be selfish.”

George Mason had only 14 rebounds at halftime, and a much bigger problem.

“He basically created a psychological barrier for us,” Patriots coach Jim Larranaga said.

Early on, “we missed some golden opportunities, and then we became our own worst enemy. We got very, very discouraged and that really shouldn’t happen,” Larranaga said.

Even halftime didn’t fix it.

“I thought in the second half that we would come out juiced up and instead they did,” Larranaga said. “They took control of the second half as well and we were never in it.”

After halftime, Maynor assisted on the Rams’ first three baskets as they opened with a 7-0 run to lead 37-19. He and Sanders went to the bench to rest with VCU leading by 22.

When the Patriots closed to within 47-32 with 8:28 left, Maynor and Sanders returned, and so did the Rams’ dominance. Maynor scored on three consecutive possessions to steady things, and Sanders added several poster-quality dunks as VCU pulled away again down the stretch.

And now VCU (24-9) is heading back to the stage where Maynor starred two years ago, beating Duke with a 17-foot jumper in the final seconds and then almost beating Pitt, too.

“It’s going to be great watching Selection Sunday knowing your name will be called,” Maynor said, recalling the disappointment of awaiting a bid last year that never came.

Maynor said he told Sanders during the championship game that no one would get angry if he grabbed 20 rebounds, and that he’ll move on to the tournament eager to see more of the same.

“That’s crazy,” Maynor said after glancing at Sanders’ stat line. “If he stays out of foul trouble, you all ain’t seen anything yet. I tell him all the time that he’s special.”

Dre Smith led George Mason (22-10) with 23 points, but most came late with the Patriots fighting to keep the game from turning into a blowout. The Patriots shot 31 percent.

Maynor assisted on VCU’s first three baskets, then scored all 14 of his first-half points in a 21-10 run that gave the Rams their biggest lead at 30-17 with 2:53 left in the half.

It didn’t get much better for the Patriots, and when Grant pulled Maynor and Sanders with 1:49 left, the building erupted, and hundreds of VCU fans stormed the court at the finish.

The Patriots were left hoping for consideration as an at-large entry in the NCAA tournament, the route they took in 2006 when they went all the way to the Final Four.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 George Mason
Dre Smith Dre Smith
8-14,  23 Pts
3 Rebs, 0 Assists
 VCU
Larry Sanders Larry Sanders
7-12,  18 Pts
20 Rebs, 0 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists