Jim Larranaga’s 2005-06 roster put George Mason on the map with a Cinderella run that survived March Madness all the way into April.
George Mason was returning seven of their top scorers but was predicted to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Patriots ended the regular season 23-7 overall and were the regular season co-champions of the CAA with a 15-3 conference record.
George Mason lost to Hofstra in the conference tournament semifinals but still grabbed an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. And so the journey began.
George Mason was a No. 11 seed set to play Tom Izzo’s No. 6 seed Michigan State in the first round. Some analysts did not agree with the decision of giving George Mason a ticket to the tournament in the first place, but the Patriots silenced everyone.
Needless to say, George Mason was a major underdog. This was a team that had never won an NCAA Tournament game going against Michigan State, a team that had made it to the Final Four four times in the last seven years.
The Patriots pushed doubts aside and shot 59.2% from the field to win 75-65. Sophomore Folarin Campbell led the winning offense with 21 points. Next up was North Carolina, Roy Williams’ defending national champion.
George Mason pulled a 65-60 win behind senior Lamar Butler’s 18 points. While the Tar Heels were the heavy favorites, it’s important to remember this was not the same team that had won it all the previous season. This particular North Carolina roster was more inexperienced, having lost all of their top scorers.
The next team to fall was Wichita State. Butler kept repeating “We’re not even supposed to be here!” as he headed to the locker room after a 63-55 win against the Shockers.
Campbell, who averaged under 11 points before the tournament, led the team with 16 points going 5-of-9 from the field. Butler and Tony Skinn contributed with 14 points each, as Will Thomas helped with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Patriots punched their ticket to the Final Four after beating Jim Calhoun’s No. 1 seed Connecticut Huskies 86-84 in overtime. It took all of George Mason’s starters scoring in double digits. Jai Lewis led with 20 points, Butler and Thomas had 19 each. Thomas completed a double-double with 12 rebounds. Campbell and Skinn added 15 and 10 points, respectively.
George Mason represented the CAA well, as the conference had never before had a team get that far into the tournament.
The Cinderella run ended with a 73-58 loss to Florida. The Gators were unstoppable from beyond the arc with 12 three-pointers that night. They went on to lift the 2006 NCAA Tournament championship trophy after beating UCLA in the final game.
It was a bittersweet moment for the Patriots. The loss hurt, but at the end of the day, they had made history.
“Whenever you talk about the Final Four, you have to mention us going to the Final Four,” Butler said postgame. “We changed the face of college basketball.”