FAIRFAX, VA – According to Ryan Pearson, George Mason’s motto for the 2011-2012 season is ‘Everything’s on to the next play’.
On Monday night at the Patriot Center, ‘Everything was on to the next half’ as George Mason survived a dismal first twenty minutes before finally coming to life in defeating UNC-Wilmington 67-61 to remain in sole-possession of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Patriots missed 14 of their first 19 shots, turned it over nine times, went nearly five minutes without scoring, and hit just three of their eight free throws in the first half.
Simply put, it was one of their worst performance in any half this season.
But even after all of those miscues, George Mason still found themselves clinging to a 23-22 lead heading into the halftime break.
Despite the advantage it was obvious the Patriots needed to pick up their play if they wanted to secure their ninth win in their last ten games.
“If you mess up, turn it over, it doesn’t matter,” Pearson said about the Patriots attitude.
“Just try to get it back or do something positive on the defensive end.”
Pearson followed his own advice in leading George Mason (16-5, 8-1) with 20 points and 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
Bryon Allen added a career-high 17 points as the Patriots stayed a game ahead of rivals Drexel, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth in the top heavy CAA standings at the league’s midway point.
George Mason came out in the second half a changed team and it was noticeable from the start.
The Patriots forced three consecutive UNC-Wilmington turnovers and subsequently turned them into an Andre Cornelius three-pointer and two Pearson breakaway dunks that energized the crowd of 4,417 which had been waiting a long time for an excuse to get excited.
UNC-Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson had no choice but to use two of his timeouts just a little more than a minute into the second half as the Patriots built a double-digit lead in what ultimately turned into a 19-2 run that spanned both halves.
The Seahawks (8-11, 4-5) would get back into the game behind the three-point shooting of reserve KK Simmons (team-high 18 points) and Adam Smith (15 points). The backcourt duo combined to hit six of UNC-Wilmington’s nine three-pointers as the Seahawks pulled to within one point at 44-43 with 11:32 remaining in the game.
George Mason struggled mightily from the outside by connecting on just one of 16 three-point attempts but more than made up for it by outscoring UNC-Wilmington 44-14 in the paint. As he is for most teams, Pearson was too much for the Seahawks to handle down low.
It was a big bounce back effort by the senior forward after scoring just nine points and collecting four rebounds in that 72-60 victory over Towson on Saturday.
“We talked about it,” Coach Paul Hewitt said about Pearson’s lackluster performance against the Tigers.
“We issued a challenge before the game and said ‘Look if you are going to be the Player of the Year in this league you can’t have games where you have four rebounds.’ Now the points, sometimes teams can do things to take you away but twelve rebounds, ten rebounds, is what he should get. I mean that’s lofty expectations but I think that’s what he’s made us accustomed to seeing.”
After a performance worthy of a CAA Player of the Year candidate, Pearson was just happy to see his team alone in first place, but he knows the season is far from over.
“8-1 is great,” Pearson said about his team’s current position.
“For us we just have to keep working. We can’t get comfortable.”
Up Next: George Mason has less than 48 hours until their next game at Hofstra (7-14, 1-8) on Wednesday night.
Patriots Notes: Erik Copes, who is fourth in the CAA in blocks per game at 2.3, missed is fourth consecutive game on Monday night.