CLEVELAND — George Mason’s marvelous season will be remembered for a 16-game winning streak, for a share of the program record in victories and for a Colonial Athletic Association regular season title.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, it will also be noted for the way it ended, a 98-66 pummeling by Ohio State in an NCAA tournament second-round game Sunday.
The Buckeyes (34-2) lived up to their top overall seeding with a comprehensive performance in front of a heavily supportive crowd. After trailing by nine in the opening moments, they made 9 of 12 three-pointers as part of a 50-15 swing to construct a 26-point halftime lead.
“When they’ve got guys hitting on all cylinders all night long and they’re sharing the ball and having fun, it’s a tough opponent to stop,” George Mason junior forward Ryan Pearson said. “They’re going to go real far.”
Ohio State, which advanced to play No. 4 Kentucky on Friday in an East Region semifinal in Newark, made 16 of 26 three-pointers and shot 61 percent from the field. Senior David Lighty (25 points) made all seven three-point attempts, one shy of the NCAA tournament record for three-point perfection. Freshman Jared Sullinger and junior William Bufordhad 18 points apiece and freshman reserve Aaron Craft distributed 15 assists.
A George Mason team that battered CAA opponents all winter received its worst setback since a 115-81 loss at North Carolina in December 2003.
“I didn’t know if we could stop them, but I thought we would score more,” Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga said. “We had to play almost a perfect game.”
The standout sophomore, who made the go-ahead three-pointer with 19 seconds left in Friday’s comeback victory over Villanova, fell ill early in the day and was administered IV fluids. When the team departed the hotel, a George Mason doctor stayed behind with him. Team officials suspected food poisoning.
Not that his absence would’ve changed the outcome.
Cam Long, one of George Mason’s two seniors, finished his sterling career with four three-pointers and 16 points (plus seven turnovers) and Pearson added 13.
Isaiah Tate, the sixth man, took Hancock’s place in the starting lineup and contributed to a promising start. The Patriots set the tone right away, with Mike Morrison attacking the 6-foot-9, 280-pound Sullinger. They trapped on defense and took charges, forcing four rapid turnovers.
When Morrison and Pearson pinned Sullinger in the corner, resulting in a turnover, Pearson barked at the big center, an act that drew a caution from a game official.
Long’s three-pointer and Pearson’s bank shot produced a stunning nine-point advantage.
After being stuck in a plodding game against Villanova, the Patriots found themselves in a fast-paced affair. Without time to think, instincts took over. And over time, that meant trouble for the outmatched Patriots.
Lighty’s three-pointers started and finished a 10-0 run to give the Buckeyes their first lead, and after Pearson hit a long three, Lighty swished two more three-pointers as part of an eight-point surge.
Leading 24-20 midway through the half, Ohio State did what it pleased the rest of the game. The Patriots managed just four free throws over the next 9 ½ minutes. Sullinger shook off defenders in the lane for dunks and layups and Lighty hit his fifth three-pointer.
In the scouting report, “we had [Lighty] as a ‘likely shooter,’ but sometimes you have that night, and tonight was his,” said Long, who became the program’s all-time leader in games played (132). “We tried to shut down one thing, and another thing would open up.”
Ohio State tossed up three-pointers like uncontested layups. Jon Diebler (4 of 8 three-pointers) hit a pair, Buford (4 of 7) got into the act and, after Pearson’s drive ended George Mason’s rut, Diebler beat the buzzer with a three-pointer for a 52-26 lead.
“Every time I looked up, everybody was hitting a jumper or a three,” Lighty said. The only player in NCAA tournament history to make more three-pointers without missing was UNC Wilmington’s John Goldsberry (eight) against Maryland in 2003.
Hancock arrived at the arena at halftime and planned to join his teammates on the bench, but dizziness and fatigue forced him to lie down in a back room.
Ohio State continued the barrage after the break by making seven of its next 11 three-pointers. For the Patriots, the final 20 minutes of their terrific campaign was about maintaining honor and providing playing time for a young group that will likely enter next season as the CAA favorite.
“This was a great season — nothing to hang our heads over,” Morrison said. “We’re a tight unit and it’s going to carry over. We want to go a little further next year.”