The George Mason men’s basketball team got clutch baskets in the closing stages after rallying from a considerable deficit to forge a 63-60 victory over American on Friday night in the season opener for both schools in front of 6,602 at Patriot Center in Fairfax.
Down four points with 3 minutes 59 seconds to play, the Patriots scored the next 10. During that surge they also clamped down defensively to secure a 13th straight win against their cross-town rival in the programs' first meeting since the 2005-06 season.
Senior guard Bryon Allen scored a game-high 20 points, including an acrobatic layup through several defenders with 1:26 left to put the Patriots ahead by three, 60-57. Moments earlier, George Mason senior guard Sherrod Wright (13 points) stole the ball from AU’s Marko Vasic, turned upcourt and sank a layup that provided the go-ahead points with 2:54 to play.
“This is my last year, so I don’t want to lose on home court,” Allen said. “We emphasize every day to compete, and that’s what we did. Toward the end of that stretch we just competed. Missed a lot of free throws, but we still competing and came out with a win.”
The Patriots certainly made their comeback from a 15-point deficit in the first half more arduous by going 19 for 31 from the foul line, including missing 8 of 19 after intermission. But their full-court pressure helped to force 16 turnovers that yielded 19 points.
George Mason shot 43 percent, got 22 points from its bench and owned a 34-27 rebounding advantage. The Patriots were especially tenacious in offense rebounding, collecting five more than American and finishing with a 17-11 margin in second-chance points.
“Those early leads, whether they get them or you get them, sometimes it’s like snow in the spring. It’s just going to disappear,” said GMU Coach Paul Hewitt. “We had the lead at the half. We came all the way back and had a one-point lead. Give them credit. They played really well.”
Freshman guard Jesse Reed had a team-high 15 points for American, which began the game by making its first five three-pointers attempts that in part created a 21-6 margin over the first six and a half minutes. Reed added four rebounds and three steals but along with junior guard-forward John Schoof (W.T. Woodson High School) committed a team-high three turnovers.
Junior guard Darius Gardner was the only other Eagles player to reach double-figures with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting with six assists, three rebounds and no turnovers in his first game after sitting out last season following a transfer from Stephen F. Austin.
Also debuting was Mike Brennan, who is in his inaugural season as American’s coach following the departure of Jeff Jones for Old Dominion.
“I’m happy with the way the guys competed tonight,” said Brennan, who is installing a system with similar concepts to that of the Hoyas’ motion style. “We’ve been working real hard on our offense. I think it shows. We got a lot of good looks. We made them in the first half. We didn’t make them in the second, and in a game like this you’ve got to be really good to beat a team like that.”