The three forwards were at the forefront before, during and after George Mason’s 61-54 victory over Rhode Island in front of 4,014 at Patriot Center on Saturday.
On a day the program announced Arledge, a senior starter when the season began, would miss the rest of the campaign with a back injury, Copes made his first appearance since serving a six-game suspension and Jenkins enjoyed the most productive outing of his freshman year with nine points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots in 17 minutes.
The Patriots (5-2) busted free in the last two minutes with a 7-0 run against a fellow Atlantic 10 school that, on this day, was a nonconference opponent. The game was arranged before George Mason joined the league last summer and won’t count in the standings. (The teams will meet in Atlantic 10 play this winter.)
Sherrod Wright had 16 points and Bryon Allen made a reverse layup coming out of a timeout for a four-point lead with 39 seconds left. The Rams (6-3) did not make a field goal in the final 4 minutes 45 seconds.
But Jenkins, a 6-foot-7 forward from New York who redshirted last year, was vital to the overall effort. He compensated for the rusty Copes, who slipped into early foul trouble and played five minutes without a point or rebound.
“I keep telling him, ‘When you figure this out, you are going to be a good player,’ ” Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt said. “He has no idea what he is doing out there sometimes. He can be inconsistent, but I love his attitude. He has a great demeanor and a gift of rebounding and passing.”
With the Patriots ahead by four, Jenkins rebounded Xavier Munford’s miss with 24 seconds left, made one free throw, then gathered the deflection on his missed second attempt.
Jenkins will not necessarily fill Arledge’s role — despite being two inches taller, Arledge was more perimeter oriented — but adds muscle and grit to a front line adjusting to Copes’s return and relying heavily on sophomore Marko Gujanicic (13 points and six rebounds against the Rams).
“If we can get [Copes] and Jalen playing at a high level every night,” Hewitt said, “we will be pretty strong protecting the rim.”
Arledge has not played since the opener against American and practiced infrequently. He started 22 times last season and averaged nine points and 4.8 rebounds.
Because he appeared in a game this season, he would need a medical hardship to retain eligibility next year. He has applied to the NCAA, Hewitt said. If hardship is granted, though, Arledge does not seem likely to return to the Patriots. He is on track to graduate in the spring and may opt to look elsewhere as a graduate student next season. Arledge did not attend Saturday’s game.
“It was his call,” Hewitt said of Arledge. “He was in a pretty serious [car] wreck this summer, and his back just hasn’t responded. . . . It’s just not getting better.”
The Rams claimed their first lead with 6:55 left before Jenkins tied it. They were ahead 53-52 when Wright flipped in a reverse layup at the 2:48 mark. After a free throw tied it and Gujanicic hit two foul shots, Allen made his critical basket seven seconds after Hewitt’s timeout for a 58-54 advantage.
“The lane was wide open, so I attacked the rim,” he said. “I saw them come, so I went to the other side. It was just great execution by us.”