After a long offseason that saw Paul Hewitt move from Georgia Tech to George Mason, the Patriots made their new head coach wait an extra five minutes to in order to register his career victory in charge of the Fairfax, Va school.
George Mason needed a career high 28 points from senior Ryan Pearson in order to outlast Rhode Island 92-90 in overtime on Friday night in front of 6,644 at the Patriot Center.
After relinquishing a late lead in regulation, George Mason (1-0) found themselves in danger of doing the exact same thing as the seconds ticked down in the extra five minute period.
Rhode Island (0-1), who was able to force overtime with a late three-pointer by Jonathan Holton, instead had a three-pointer by Orion Outerbridge rattle around the rim as the final horn sounded.
In a frenetic, up-and-down affair, George Mason was led by a familiar face. Preseason All-CAA selection Ryan Pearson is expected to be one of the team leader’s and the senior delivered on opening night.
After getting off to a tough 3 for 11 start in the first half, Pearson came back to finish with 28 points on 11 for 22 shooting. He chipped in six points in the decisive overtime period.
“He had a tough first half,” Hewitt said of his veteran.
“I’m just so happy that he bounced back. That’s what a senior does and I think he’s going to keep getting better.”
One of the biggest questions marks heading into the season for the Patriots was their guard play with the graduation of Cam Long and Isaiah Tate and the first semester suspension of Andre Cornelius. Paul Hewitt, in perhaps a mild upset, went with a three-guard starting lineup that included sophomores Bryon Allen, Vertrail Vaughns, and Sherrod Wright.
Wright, who spent last season on the sidelines with an injury, responded to his first game in over a year by finishing with 17 points, but it was his late game offensive rebounding that may have proven even more valuable.
“The first couple of minutes I couldn’t believe that I was out there,” Wright said about his comeback.
Ryan Pearson was also happy to have his teammate back on the court.
“He couldn’t come back at a better time,” Pearson said about Wright.
“He’s going to be that guy that we need on the perimeter. He comes back and gets the two big offensive rebounds. Without those rebounds, who knows where the game would have been.”
Rhode Island was led by Jamal Wilson who, after averaging 5.1 points per game last season as a junior, exploded for a career high 38 points on 13 for 22 field goals.
George Mason Notes: The Patriots have now won 15 straight home games at the Patriot Center going back to the end of the 2009-2010 season. George Mason has also won nine straight home openers. Up next is a trip to Blacksburg, Va on Monday for a first-round game against Florida International in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Win or lose, George Mason will play on Tuesday against either Virginia Tech of Monmouth.