Off-balance and lurching toward the hoop a dozen minutes into Sunday afternoon’s BB&T Classic opener, Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard lofted a soft floater that, at first glance, had little chance of finding nylon. Then George Mason center Erik Copes barreled down the lane and smacked the shot off the backboard. Everyone crumbled into a heap by the baseline, the referee blew his whistle to signal goaltending and two fellow Patriots turned their palms upward and pleaded, “Why?”
An 81-66 loss to the Sooners brought plenty of those bewildering moments for Coach Paul Hewitt on the George Mason bench. His team fell behind by double digits early. By the second media timeout, it nearly had a one-to-one ratio of minutes to turnovers. After shooting 27.6 percent by intermission, the Patriots were fortunate to trail by just 10 points.
“Got outplayed in a lot of ways,” Hewitt said, particularly on the glass, where Oklahoma outrebounded George Mason by 22, including 17 on the offensive end that turned into 18 second-chance points. “That’s not what we’ve been doing this year. We’ve been rebounding the ball pretty well. We counted on that coming into the game being one of the things that maybe we could take advantage of. Obviously we were wrong.”
Last Wednesday, the Patriots spent their evening on the opposite side of a blowout. After allowing a 17-point lead to disappear against South Florida, it lost both the game on a late jumper and forward Anali Okoloji to an indefinite suspension, after the redshirt junior appeared to intentionally step on the back of prone guard Anthony Collins. Okoloji’s eventual punishment, announced in a news release the following afternoon, mattered far less to the Patriots than the fallout from the devastating defeat, their third in the past four games.
“We tried to put that behind us as fast as we could,” Hewitt said. “Just refocus on a good team that was playing well coming in.”
No such comeback was necessary, because the Sooners (8-1) stifled all potential drama early. They broke out quick in transition and found easy paths to the lane, turning nine George Mason turnovers into 10 points during the first half. Only a miserable outside shooting game (1 for 12 on three-pointers) and 19 Sooners turnovers helped George Mason (5-4) stave off a blowout.
Oklahoma’s lead expanded to 20 points after the under-eight media timeout in the second half, capped off by consecutive dunks from Buddy Hield and Ryan Spangler. Spangler produced his fourth double-double of the season, finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Cameron Clark (22 points), Woodard (15 points) and Hield (12 points, 10 rebounds) paced a well-rounded effort.
George Mason, meanwhile, had only one player — guard Bryon Allen — finish in double figures in scoring, committed 15 turnovers and shot 30.2 percent from the field.
“It was a little bit frustrating because we were getting good shots,” said Allen, who had a team-high 15 points but shot 5 for 17 from the field. “They just weren’t dropping.”
The Patriots now enter a two-week lull for final exams before their next game, with plenty to fix on the itinerary, but a late sprint at least provided something positive off which to build. An Allen three-pointer from the left corner brought George Mason within 10 points, its smallest deficit since 17 minutes 18 seconds remained in the game, but following a quick timeout, Oklahoma started icing the game from the free throw line.
“We’ll regroup,” Hewitt said. “We’re nine games into a 30-game season.”