For the past few weeks George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt has had one consistent wish after each game. He’s wanted something more from his bench.
Well on Saturday night against James Madison at the Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Coach Hewitt’s wish was finally granted.
George Mason outlasted Colonial Athletic Association rivals James Madison 89-83 behind the strength of its bench in order to continue its recent dominance in the series. The Patriots have now won 16 of their last 17 meetings with JMU.
Despite missing prominent reserve Erik Copes, who leads the Patriots in blocks, George Mason (13-5, 5-1) got more points from its bench (49) than from its starters (40) and had four players log at least 20 minutes in a reserve role.
Vaughn Grey went for a career-high 19 points and was joined in double-figures by fellow substitutes Sherrod Wright (15 points) and Jonathan Arledge (career-high 12 points).
First-year Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt wasn’t the only one that noticed the production from the reserves. Leading scorer Ryan Pearson, who matched Grey with 19 points, was ecstatic with what he saw from his teammates.
“I think they played great,” Pearson said.
“They played with a lot of heart. Us as a team, we know that we got a lot of guys on this team that can just flat out play and they showed it both offensively and defensively.”
The Patriots doubled up on James Madison (8-9, 1-5) early on by a score of 28-14 behind the strong play of Pearson who came into the game in a bit of a shooting slump. The senior forward had been just 1-of-13 over the past two games.
George Mason would never give up its lead but the game would take a turn for the worse as a parade to the free throw line quickly ensued.
The two teams combined to tie the all-time conference record for total fouls (63) and as a result the Patriots would come up with a box score rarity by attempting more free throws (48) than field goals (45).
By the time it was all said and done, the game lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes which far exceed its allotted TV time slot.
The Patriots’ lead would balloon to as much as 24 at 78-54 in the second half. The Dukes managed to claw back to within five at 82-77 with less than a minute remaining thanks in large part to 21 George Mason turnovers.
Humpty Hitchens and Devon Moore lead the way for JMU with 19 points.
Pearson, who was playing in his last game on the road against James Madison, didn’t care how George Mason got the win.
“Playing against James Madison is always fun because that’s our big time rival in the conference,” Pearson said.
“They always have an intense crowd and it’s always fun. As college basketball players you live to play in high level games like this.”
JMU coach Matt Brady was disappointed that his team’s comeback attempt came up short but he had nothing but good things to say about the Patriots who moved into a first-place tie with Georgia State and Old Dominion.
“I thought they were really sharp,” Brady said.
“They were coming off a tough loss. I think they recognized for themselves that first place is on the line and that any game can cause them an opportunity to not be in first place. I thought they were terrific and we weren’t terrific. That’s a good basketball team.”
Up Next: George Mason returns to the Patriot Center on Wednesday night at 7pm against Delaware (7-9, 3-3) for the first of three straight home games.