Long, Pearson pace Patriots to unsightly victory
When the public-address announcer proclaimed that one minute remained in George Mason’s 66-51 victory over Georgia State on Saturday, widespread applause echoed throughout Patriot Center. It’s not an uncommon response when the home team is winning, but on this fitful afternoon in Fairfax, it coupled as an outpouring of relief that the choppy and unsightly game was nearing a merciful conclusion.
The officiating crew had used video replay three times. Panthers Coach Rod Barnes had called a rapid succession of timeouts. There were injury delays, a technical foul, 37 personal fouls, 33 turnovers and 45 free throw attempts.
The 5,714 spectators seemed as exhausted as the players.
“At one point, my [assistant] coaches said, ‘We need to sub.’ I said, ‘Why?’ It was such a slowmoving contest,” George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said after his team improved to 12-5 overall and 4-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
It was not only a plodding game, but a strange one as well.
After shooting 67 percent Wednesday at Northeastern, the Patriots needed almost 10 minutes to make a second field goal. The Panthers (8-8, 3-3) entered as the second-worst free throw shooting team in the country (56.7 percent), yet made 11 of 14.
Notorious free throw shooters themselves, the Patriots converted 16 of 18 in the second half and 25 of 31 overall (80.6 percent). Mike Morrison, a 43 percent shooter, made 6 of 9. Mason’s co-leading rebounder, with six, was 5-foot-10 Andre Cornelius.
Disruptions and peculiarities aside, the Patriots mustered enough defensive grit to trigger transition baskets and a 9-0 surge during a 42-point second half for their eighth home victory without a loss.
Cam Long had 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, Ryan Pearson added 14 and sixth man Isaiah Tate contributed 11 points, six rebounds and outstanding defense to help pull the Patriots out of their early-game doldrums.
Their problems actually began at Friday’s practice, which followed a laborious week of travel to and from blizzards-tricken Boston for Thursday’s 86-60 win over Northeastern.
“ The atmosphere and environment seemed really dead,” Long said of practice. “Everybody was looking a little lazy and tired.”
So Larranaga halted the session, sent the players to the locker room to regroup and then tried again. Although play improved, the weariness carried into Saturday. The Panthers also arrived fatigued after having their midweek game at James Madison delayed a day.
What resulted was an ugly display. Each team needed about 10 minutes to score 10 points. The Patriots struck for 12 straight to lead by nine before the Panthers pulled within 24-21 at halftime.
The game continued to sputter in the second half. Between the 18-minute 9-second and 15:29 marks, there were five substantial stoppages: two Georgia State timeouts, an official timeout and two video consultations. On the first review, an apparent Panthers foul was changed to a technical foul on Pearson for inadvertently elbowing his defender as he turned to shoot in the low post.
Mason was unable to pull away until midway through the half. Leading by two, the Patriots increased the tempo and pressure, forcing several of Georgia State’s 20 turnovers. During the 9-0 run, an instant before a Panther was going to intercept an outlet pass, Tate tapped the ball ahead to LukeHancock for a layup as part of a three-point play.
“We started pressuring them on every score, and that sped them up a little bit in the full court and got them a little bit out of control,” Tate said. “We were able to get some fast break points, we were able to get our guys going and pick our energy up.”
Ryan Pearson slams home two of his 14 points in the first half for GeorgeMason, which improves to 12-5 overall and 4-2 in CAA play.