- 2006: #11 George Mason vs #3 North Carolina (65-60 2nd Rnd)
The Patriots were one of the best defensive teams in the nation allowing just over 60 points per game. They were coming off their first NCAA tournament win in school history after upsetting #6 Michigan State in the first round. Now, George Mason had to face the high octane offense of North Carolina who was averaging nearly 80 points per game. The game was played in the nation’s capital at the Verizon Center which was less than an hour drive from the George Mason campus. It was “David vs Goliath” as George Mason was making only their 4th tournament appearance while the defending National Champion Tar Heels were making their 38th. The Patriots trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half but were able to trim it 7 by halftime, 27-20. George Mason started the second half with an 8-0 run and took their first lead of the game at 28-27. The Patriots turned up the defensive pressure in the second half and forced 9 turnovers for the Tar Heels after only 4 in the first half. UNC trailed by 3 points, 60-57, with 34 seconds remaining but a costly turnover and clutch free throw shooting (5 of 6) by George Mason were too much to overcome. The Patriots were off to the Sweet 16 and their Cinderella story was far from over. They would go on to win 2 more games including a thrilling overtime victory over #2 Connecticut to reach the Final Four. The Patriots’ magical run ended after a 73-58 loss to eventual national champion Florida but this George Mason team will forever be in the history books as one of only 4 teams seeded #11 to make it to the Final Four.
- 2007: #11 Winthrop vs #6 Notre Dame (74-64 1st Rnd)
The Eagles had a season to remember even before playing their first round match-up against the Fighting Irish. Winthrop had set a Big South Conference record with 28 wins in the season, went undefeated (14-0) in conference play, became the first Big South team to be nationally ranked and were riding an 18 game winning streak entering the tournament. The highly talented and well coached (Gregg Marshall) Eagles were making their 3rd consecutive tournament appearance and were primed for a victory after impressive showings (losses to Gonzaga 74-64 and Tennessee 63-61). Winthrop may have been the higher seeded team but they did not let it show. After trailing much of the first half, the Eagles made a pair of 3 pointers in the closing minute of the first half and led 32-28. They opened the second half with a flurry and soared to a 20 point lead. However, the Fighting Irish stayed true to their name and regained the lead late in the second half at 63-62. Winthrop would outscore Notre Dame 12-1 in the final two minutes and go on to extend their winning streak to 19 games. A second round loss to #3 Oregon would end the Eagles’ monumental season in which they became the first (and only) Big South team to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.