His perseverance on the perimeter, chasing his man and knocking the ball away, led to his steal and layup. And when the Great Danes returned up court, the ultra-hyped Pearson was waiting with face-to-face pressure on Logan Aronhalt. Pearson’s shaggy beard was intimidating enough; his prolonged howl, audible throughout the mostly empty arena, added to the commotion.
The defensive intensity keyed a 12-0 start and 15-point halftime lead, and when the Patriots (4-2) sputtered offensively in the second half of the NIT Season Tip-Off consolation game, their renewed pressure helped maintain a double-digit cushion.
“It makes the game so much easier,” senior forward Mike Morrison said of the early burst. “You let somebody get hot early, they’re going to be hot the whole game. If you start them out slow, even when they get good looks, they feel like they’re not going [in], so they start missing. And to jump out early and get early stops, it impacts the whole game.”
The Patriots’ defense, combined with Albany’s cockeyed aim, resulted in the Great Danes (2-3) shooting 18 percent in the first half and 26 percent overall. Gerardo Suero, who scored a career-high 31 points against fifth-ranked Syracuse last week and entered the night averaging 23.3, needed more than 28 minutes to record his first field goal. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting and committed eight of his team’s 13 turnovers.
“We could tell in the walk-through [earlier in the day] that [the Patriots] had a lot of energy,” George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt said. “You can always tell if a team is ready by how they approach the walk-through, and they were ready to go.”
Pearson scored 13 of his 24 points in the first half and the Patriots scored an astounding 52 points in the lane in front of just 1,384 fans in Fairfax.
Playing for the third time in four days, the Patriots never trailed. The first four-plus minutes set the tone: crisp ball movement, finely executed transition play and ferocious pressure, which contributed to four consecutive turnovers.
The Patriots didn’t allow Suero a sliver of space. Ten minutes into the game, Bryon Allen stepped in front of him to draw a charge near midcourt, sending Suero to the bench with two fouls and no points.
Offensively, the Patriots pounded the ball inside to senior forward Pearson and Morrison, who shot 6 for 10 for a season-high 13 points, and penetrated with effectiveness.
“Coach always wants us to play inside-out,” said sophomore guard Sherrod Wright, who had 12 points and a career-high seven rebounds. “That’s the main focus: get to the paint. We’re bigger and stronger than a lot of people and we have a lot of people who can attack the rim.”
Morrison also contributed with nine rebounds, three more than his average. The coaching staff had been pushing him to become more involved near the basket.
“I know I haven’t been the greatest rebounder,” he said. “Coaches are trying to bring that out of me. Sometimes I make excuses for why I’m not getting them. They are like, ‘Forget that, just go get the rebound, I don’t care how many people it was, I don’t care if your teammates aren’t helping you, just go get the ball.’ ”
In the first game of the doubleheader, Brown (3-3) shot 68 percent in the first half and defeated winless Monmouth, 79-71. Stephen Albrecht and Sean McGonagill combined for 40 points for the Bears, who had more points at halftime (50) than they did in 40 minutes against George Mason on Monday (48). Brown shot 61 percent overall and made 11 of 22 three-pointers.
●GEORGE WASHINGTON 54, AUSTIN PEAY 52: Aaron Ware scored 12 points and Jabari Edwards added eight to help the Colonials hold off the Governors (0-5) in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Edwards shot 100 percent from the field (4 for 4), recorded two assists and four of his six rebounds came on the offensive end. Taylor chipped in with 11 points.
●TULANE 57, NAVY 55: Kendall Timmons scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds in the Green Wave’s win over the host Midshipmen (2-3).
Josh Davis added 14 points and Jordan Callahan chipped in with 12 for Tulane (4-0).
●AMERICAN 74, QUINNIPIAC 73: Charles Hinkle scored 31 points, including 15 free throws in 19 attempts, as the Eagles edged the visiting Bobcats (2-2) for their third consecutive victory.
Blake Jolivette made 1 of 2 free throws with eight seconds left to give the Eagles (3-2) their margin of victory. American was awarded 48 free throws in the game and made 34.
Tayler Hill scored 18 points, hitting three three-pointers, and No. 18 Ohio State beat the visiting Bison, 73-50. Saadia Doyle scored 19 and Tamoria Holmes 16 for Howard (1-3).
Darryce Moore added 15 points for the Buckeyes (3-0).
— Associated Press