Another game in Norfolk, another GMU setback
Patriots are close, but lose for seventh straight time at ODU
norfolk — It happens every winter: The George Mason Patriots board a bus in Fairfax, spend three-plus hours on the interstates, stay at a hotel across the street from Old Dominion’s immaculate arena and the next afternoon, with a plot line that revolves annually, they lose to the Monarchs in front of a rowdy sellout crowd.
The seventh consecutive gutting defeat at Constant Center came Saturday, a 69-65 decision that wasn’t decided until the final four seconds.
With the Patriots trailing by two, Andre Cornelius missed a three-pointer and ODU’s Frank Hassell compensated for two late misses from the free throw line by making a pair with 1.9 seconds left to cap a wildly entertaining game between the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason favorites.
Mason (10-5, 2-2) overcame a late six-point deficit to draw even on Cam Long’s fourth threepointer, but the Monarchs (12-3, 3-1) went ahead on a power move by Hassell (18 points) with 1 minutes 23 seconds remaining. Both sides then missed from the field, setting upMason’s last possession with 30 seconds to go.
The Patriots had labored all day to penetrate against the taller Monarchs’ zone, so with his final timeout, Coach Jim Larranaga instructed his team to use screens and look for an outside shot.
“We don’t have the kind of size and back-to-the-basket scoring where we could’ve moved the ball around and dumped inside,” he explained, a point supported by Mason’s dearth of front-court production until the late stages.
The Patriots had made seven of their previous 13 three-pointers, and when they found Cornelius on the top right side, they were primed to end their funk in Norfolk.
“It was the best look you can ever get for a last-second shot,” said Cornelius, a 5-foot-10 guard who is second on the team in three-pointers and had made two earlier.
“It felt good when it left. I knew it was good.”
But not good enough. To the relief of the Monarchs and their 8,344 supporters, the shot struck the rim.
“ The [defensive] rotation got screwed up a little bit,” ODU guard Kent Bazemore said. “We didn’t want [Long or Cornelius] with the ball. When [Cornelius] went up, I was like, ‘No!’ ”
Ideally, the Patriots would’ve preferred to have gotten the ball to Long, a senior guard who had made all four three-point attempts and 9 of 14 overall for a season-high 23 points. Cornelius was the next-best option, and as Larranaga said, “It’s his shot, it’s a very good look.”
Ryan Pearson scored eight of his 13 pointsdownthe stretch and Luke Hancock added 13 plus seven assists for the Patriots, who on Wednesday will conclude a stretch of six road trips over seven games with a visit to Northeastern, where they’ve lost four in a row by an average of 15 points.
Despite being outrebounded by just four, Mason was unable to secure ODU misses consistently. The Monarchs claimed 18 offensive rebounds, one shy of the Patriots’ defensive total, and had 23 second-chance points. Long, who is 6-4, was the only Mason player with more than three defensive boards.
“It’s been a concern all season,” Larranaga said. “We only lost the [overall rebounding] battle by four; it seemed like 24.”
With multiple-shot possessions, the Monarchs penetrated effectively and utilized their superior inside game. Junior forward Chris Cooper (Forest Park High) equaled his career high with nine points for the Monarchs, who improved to 22-1 at home the past two seasons and rewarded Coach Blaine Taylor with his 200th victory since arriving in 2001.
Still, the Patriots had their chance.
“We knew it was going to come down to the wire,” Cornelius said. “We got a good last-second shot and I should have just knocked it down.”