FAIRFAX, Va. – Senior Ryan Pearson easily put in one the best performances of his career as George Mason held on to defeat Colonial Athletic Association rivals James Madison 89-79 on Saturday afternoon in front of 8,014 at the Patriot Center.
But it didn’t start out that way.
Pearson headed into the halftime locker room with 13 points but had just two rebounds to his credit as the Patriots clung to a 43-41 advantage. What might sound like a respectable stat line after twenty minutes was met with anything but approval by a certain member of the George Mason coaching staff.
“Coach [Ronald] Houston, our big man coach, he’s really tough on us,” Pearson explained.
“He told me at halftime that I had two rebounds… and it wasn’t acceptable for him. He wanted me to grab every rebound and to think that every shot is a miss and go after everything and I think that’s what I did.”
Pearson, who is one of the front runners for CAA Player of the Year, responded with 13 rebounds in the second half to help the Patriots (18-5, 10-1) win their sixth straight game and stay one game ahead of Drexel, Old Dominion, and Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA Standings.
For the game Pearson finished with 29 points, his best ever total at the Patriot Center, and tied a career-high with 15 rebounds.
“I think he’s the best player in our league and he played like it again today,” Coach Paul Hewitt said about Pearson’s performance.
James Madison (10-12, 3-8) stayed in the game until the very end and was able to soften the blow of Pearson’s huge night with a special performance of their own. Diminutive guard Humpty Hitchens, all 5-foot-9 of him, went off to match his career-high with 27 points while also contributing seven assists.
The Patriots used a 26-10 run on both sides of halftime to take a twelve point lead only to see the Dukes eventually whittle it down to just four after an A.J Davis (13 points) three-pointer brought James Madison to within 79-75 with just under two minutes remaining.
Byron Allen (14 points) answered for George Mason by going straight to the basket for a layup to extend the lead to 81-75. On the next Dukes possession Davis again attempted a three-pointer except this time Pearson was able to come up with the game-changing block.
From there George Mason was able to ice the game from the line with made free throws from Vertrail Vaughns (14 points) and Andre Cornelius (10 points).
There’s still another month to go for players to prove their worth but add JMU Coach Matt Brady to the list of admirers that think Pearson has the inside track to CAA Player of the Year.
“I’m not sure he’s not the most difficult matchup in this league,” Coach Brady said about Pearson.
“He is an absolute throwback. Speed of the game doesn’t bother him, athletes don’t bother him, size doesn’t bother him. He’s got a way about playing that you can’t get him to speed up his game.”
George Mason scored 89 points against JMU for the second time in as many weeks in defeating the Dukes for the 18th time in their last 20 meetings.
Up Next: George Mason travels to Delaware on Wednesday to take on the Blue Hens at 7pm. Lead by Pearson’s 24 points, the Patriots won the first meeting 89-63 on January 18th at the Patriot Center.
Patriots Notes: ESPN will release the BracketBuster schedule on Monday afternoon. George Mason will host a home game on either February 17th or 18th.