BOISE, IDAHO — BOISE, Idaho - They had never seen anything like George Mason center George Evans.
Yes, Duke's Carlos Boozer and North Carolina's Brendan Haywood are more acclaimed, and each is a load in his own right. But Evans yesterday gave Maryland defenders Lonny Baxter and Terence Morris more than anything they had seen in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
Evans finished with a game-high 27 points, grabbed seven rebounds and was the main reason No. 14 seed George Mason almost pulled off the upset before losing to the third-seeded Terps, 83-80, in the NCAA tournament West Regional first-round game at the BSU Pavilion.
With his offensive dominance, Evans, 6 feet 7, was partially responsible for the worst combined performance of the season by center Baxter and forward Morris.
The two finished a combined 1-for-7 from the field with six points. Baxter, whom Evans said he played against at times during the past few summers, drew the bulk of the responsibility for guarding Evans.
"He was just playing extremely aggressive," Baxter said. "Inside, going to the hole, getting second shots, he was just a really strong force for them today."
Evans, a 30-year-old Army and Gulf War veteran, was just too quick for Maryland defenders on some plays, and on others, he was too powerful. It was a far contrast from Evans' previous experience in the NCAA tournament two years ago, when he was held scoreless against Cincinnati.
"I was in a groove," Evans said. "Lonny is a great player. I knew going against him I had to put forth my best effort."
Evans played like a three-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, so Baxter's rough day - which included picking up his fourth foul midway through the second half, forcing him to split time with Tahj Holden - was understandable.
Morris' showing was a bit more puzzling.
At times, he seemed completely out of sync in the offense, which led Terps coach Gary Williams to give freshman Chris Wilcox more playing time.
Never was the difference between Wilcox and Morris more apparent than three minutes into the second half. Williams replaced Morris with Wilcox, then watched as the freshman converted a layup on the inbounds pass after shaking free from his defender.
Eight minutes later, Morris returned and his problems continued. He missed a layup but got his own rebound, then missed the put-back with six minutes left and the Terps up by one.
"This time of year, you have to get people out there who are playing," Williams said. "You can't worry about feelings or anything else. And we have a player in Chris Wilcox, who is 6-8, 6-9, and terrific athletically. He still gets lost a little bit out there, but he does a great job for us. We're fortunate to have a great bench, and Terence couldn't really get started for us.
"The only thing you can do is expect Terence to come out and play well the next game. I certainly do. I think Terence is a competitor and wants to play well. I thought he missed a couple of easy situations early, and sometimes that affects a player. But we need Terence, there is no doubt about it."
The capper for Morris came near the end of the game with the Terps up 81-80. Patriots forward Jesse Young was forced to foul Morris with 28.4 seconds left to keep the Terps from running out the clock. Morris missed both free throws, and Maryland was in position to be ousted in the first round.
"Those were tough free throws," Morris said. "They felt good when they left my hand. A couple of bounces and they bounced out.
"Sometimes you're not going to score 20, 30 points a night. But maybe my shot will come when we play Georgia State Saturday."
George Mason did not take advantage of Morris' misses. As the clock ticked down, a pass intended for Evans trickled through his legs and out of bounds with six seconds left, one of the few times something bad happened for the Patriots when he was around the ball.
Shortly before that, Evans had gone down briefly after getting kicked in the stomach, but he returned to rousing applause.
"People will say he's not as good as Boozer or this guy or that guy in our league," Williams said. "But in a one-game situation, look out. He's quicker than most big guys we play."