FAIRFAX – In order to secure one of the most likely results on the schedule, George Mason coach Paul Hewitt needed an unlikely spark off the bench.
Marko Gujanicic fulfilled that role as the freshmen hit two three-pointers during a decisive 13-2 run in the second half that propelled George Mason to a 68-57 victory over Colonial Athletic Association rivals James Madison at the Patriot Center on Tuesday night.
Gujanicic, a reserve forward from Serbia, had hit just four of his previous 19 attempts from long distance before heating up at just the right time.
“It was awhile since I hit the last one, so it was about time,” Gujanicic said about his performance amid recent shooting woes.
The Patriots (10-7, 3-2) also came out on top in the only other game in which Gujanicic hit multiple three-pointers, a season opening win over ACC in-state rivals Virginia.
Despite still trialing the all-time series 49-44, George Mason has absolutely owned its Harrisonburg nemesis in recent times.
The numbers are completely lopsided.
The Patriots have won eight straight overall, ten straight at home, and 18 of the last 19 meetings.
Sherrod Wright led George Mason with 23 points while Gujanicici provided his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The second part of Gujanicic’s stat line was perhaps even more important than the first.
After dropping its previous contest to UNC-Wilmington over the weekend, George Mason was determined to improve in on area – rebounding.
In that road loss to the Seahawks, George Mason found itself on the wrong end of a 49-34 rebounding tally. Coach Hewitt knew his team needed to overcome those deficiencies on the glass in order to bounce back in the win column.
“I thought we played well against [UNC] Wilmington we just didn’t rebound the ball,” Hewitt openly admitted.
“There was one significant aspect in that game where we had to improve on in this game. Our goal was to try and hold them under 11 offensive rebounds, we held them to nine. I told them before the game, just play the way you played against Wilmington but just don’t give up the second chance points and we’ll be fine.”
Hewitt was right as George Mason bounced back with a 48-29 edge in rebounds.
Before that game changing second half run, the Patriots found themselves in danger in dropping a rare game to James Madison.
JMU (9-9, 3-2) built its first half lead behind the hot shooting of Ron Curry (11 points). The freshman guard was 3-of-4 from three-point distance. His third long distance bucket of the first half gave the Dukes their largest lead at 31-22.
Leading scorer Sherrod Wright was part of a revamped defense that held Curry, and the rest of his teammates, in check after the halftime break.
“We just closed out hard, we made sure we got there faster than we did in the first half,” Wright said about the second half adjustments that saw JMU finish 5-for-18 from three-point range after hitting five of ten in the first half.
“Curry is a good player, he made three big ones in the first half but we had to make sure we locked him down.”
For Hewitt, it was just nice to finally just recognize one of his most talented and versatile players.
“I’ve been walking around, every time I see him I keep asking ‘ Are you Marko?’ to make sure because he’s not playing like the guy I recruited here,” Hewitt joked after seeing Gujanicic break out of his slump.
“He’s really been trying hard. For him to make that first three, I know that’s a big weight off his shoulders, the second one, he stepped up with a lot of confidence.”
Dukes coach Matt Brady, who is now just 1-8 against George Mason, knew just how small the margin of error was for his team against an unforgiving foe.
From his point of view, Gujanicic’s contribution couldn’t be understated in Mason’s comeback.
“We knew this game could change on a shot and [Gujanicic] made two and we turned it over and they got a layup. Those three baskets were really the difference in the game.”
Up Next: Mason returns home on Saturday to take on Hofstra (5-11, 2-1) at 5pm. The Pride are led by Penn State transfer Taran Buie with 14. 6 points per game. George Mason has won three of its last four against Hofstra.