Reporting Bobby Bancroft
Groundhog Day was over a week ago yet George Mason continues to live out the same ‘closer than it probably should be’ game over and over again. Of course as long as the wins keep piling up, nobody will be complaining.
After building up a comfortable, double-figure advantage in the second half, George Mason withstood a late UNC-Wilmington charge to secure a 75-69 win on Saturday night to remain in a first-place tie atop the Colonial Athletic Association standings with Drexel and Virginia Commonwealth.
Sherrod Wright led four Patriots (21-6, 13-2) in double figures with 16 points off the bench as George Mason clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament to be played March 2-5 in Richmond.
“It was good to get a road win,” Coach Paul Hewitt said in the post game press conference as the Patriots completed the season sweep of the Seahawks for the fourth straight season.
“I thought we played well in stretches. I thought [Coach Buzz Peterson] and his guys were aggressive in stretches that really put us on our heels.”
Ryan Pearson continued his march towards the CAA Player of the Year award with another all-around performance of 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Bryon Allen and Vertrail Vaughns each added 10 points.
“I think the biggest difference when you play George Mason…you’re playing Ryan Pearson,” Coach Peterson said about facing the Patriots leading scorer for perhaps the last time.
“Just out there coaching against him you hear him talking to everybody, he’s encouraging teammates, getting them what they need to be in and he wants the ball. This young man to me has had a player of the year type of year in the CAA.”
Trailing 44-43 early in the second half UNC-Wilmington (9-16, 5-10) had a chance to take the lead but Cedrick Williams (eight points, eight rebounds) missed both free throws with 16:17 remaining.
George Mason used a 12-0 run after that missed free throw to take a commanding 56-43 that they would hold until late in the game.
Adam Smith (game-high 20 points) hit a three-pointer and then a long two-pointer to bring Seahawks to within 67-63 with 1:55 remaining.
Mike Morrison (five points, two rebounds) had a quiet night but his three-point play with less than 90 seconds remaining pushed the lead back up to 70-63 and the game looked to be over.
No such luck as Coach Hewitt would have to again watch as miscues plagued his team.
Vaughns fouled a three point shooter, Pearson turned the ball over at half court, and Allen missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the line to keep the game close.
The Patriots survived their late game follies after Smith missed his final three-pointer for the Seahawks.
Wright, the CAA’s leading free throw shooter, sank the last four of the night for George Mason to seal the victory.
Although the Patriots were outrebounded 36-32 for the game , they kept Keith Rendleman, the nation’s ninth leading rebounder, in check with just 14 points and six rebounds – five below his average of eleven.
George Mason shot 51.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range but committed 16 turnovers. In the first meeting the Patriots hit a season worst 6.3 percent (1-of-16) from downtown.
Up Next: George Mason comes home to face VCU (22-5, 13-2) on Tuesday night at 9pm in the first of two matchups late in the season.