Reporting Bobby Bancroft
RICHMOND, Va. – All season long first-year George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt has been involved in tight games and all season long he’s given valuable minutes to his bench.
Both of those season long trends paid off in a major way on Saturday night for the Patriots as Bryon Allen’s reverse layup with 3.4 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in George Mason’s 61-59 victory over Georgia State in a Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinal before a sold-out crowd of 11,200 at the Richmond Coliseum.
“We do a good job executing in the last four minutes,” Coach Hewitt said as the Patriots improved to 11-4 in games decided by six points or less.
Normally Coach Hewitt can count on recently named CAA Player of the Year Ryan Pearson (four points, two rebounds) and fellow senior Mike Morrison (12 points, seven rebounds, four blocks) to provide his team with stability down the stretch but after both players fouled out with under two minutes to go, Hewitt had to look elsewhere.
That’s when Allen (eight points) stepped in with a little help from his teammates.
“Without them on the floor, it’s nice to see Sherrod [Wright] and Jonathan Arledge really execute what we wanted to do,” Coach Hewitt said about that last possession.
“Bryon made a great read…he saw that opportunity and just attacked the basket.”
Besides setting some late screens Sherrod Wright joined Mike Morrison in double-figures with ten points -all in the second half -and Jonathan Arledge added four points and six rebounds. Arledge’s seventeen minutes were the most the sophomore forward has logged since late January.
With the win George Mason (24-8) is set to meet VCU (26-6) in Sunday’s second semifinal at 4:30pm. The schools split two earlier meetings this season with each winning at home. Playing just minutes from campus, the Rams have eliminated the Patriots from the CAA tournament in each of the past three seasons.
“We’re definitely ready to play them again,” Morrison said about facing VCU again this season.
“We’re ready to correct our mistakes and try and get this win on our road to the CAA championship hopefully.”
Top seeded Drexel will square off against the two time defending champions ODU in the first game of the day at 2pm.
After no real upsets in any of the tournament’s first seven games, sixth-seeded Georgia State (21-11), fresh off the most lopsided victory in CAA postseason history, looked to break that trend early on.
The Panthers, behind Rashaad Richardson (ten points) and James Field (game-high 15 points), led by as many as eleven points midway through the first half.
George Mason cut their deficit to 30-25 at the half and hung around during long cold stretches in the second half thanks to poor free-throw shooting by the Panthers. Georgia State shot just 17-of-30 (57 percent) for the game with ten of those misses coming in the second half.
“It’s been an achilles heel of ours all year,” Georgia State Coach Ron Hunter said about his team’s free throw woes through the season.
Despite hitting on just 2-of-15 three-pointers for the game, Andre Cornelius came through with an enormous long distance jumper with the shot clock winding down to increase Geogre Mason’s margin to four at 59-55 with 3:19 remaining.