George Mason basketball holds on to beat James Madison

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010

George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga scanned the grim statistics Saturday and noted that James Madison shot nearly 70 percent in the second half, allowed his team to collect just five rebounds after halftime and made multiple surges that turned a comfortable margin into a fitful ending in Fairfax.

"And we won?" he said incredulously after a harrowing 70-68 victory, the Patriots' seventh straight to remain in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.

"I am always amazed when the numbers don't seem to add up -- they don't really make any sense. But it has been that way. . . . What this team has done, it's been able to control certain aspects of the game and put themselves in a position to win."

The Patriots (15-7, 10-1) were in that position by forging an eight-point halftime lead and maintaining a double-digit advantage most of the second half. But they were unable to pull away from the explosive Dukes (10-12, 3-8), who trimmed a 13-point deficit to three with 52 seconds remaining.

After a George Mason miss, Matt Parker's three-pointer with eight seconds left hit the rim and teammate Julius Wells recovered a loose ball at the three-point arc. Wells was fouled in the scramble, the whistle clearly sounding before he swished a three-pointer that drew gasps from the crowd of 7,813.

"It was a scary moment," Patriots junior guard Cam Long said, "especially when I saw it go in."

Wells (19 points) made both free throws to cut the deficit to one, and after Long converted 1 of 2 from the line with 3.6 seconds to go, Ben Louis's running one-hander from 40 feet was well off target.

Long made 8 of 12 field goals and scored 23 points -- his fourth 20-point game in the last five -- and the Patriots tied the program record for consecutive home victories in league play (17). They haven't lost to a CAA foe at Patriot Center since a buzzer-beating shot by UNC Wilmington two years ago.

Long scored his team's last 11 points, including a scoop shot with 2 1/2 minutes left that halted the Dukes' 8-0 spurt and briefly alleviated pressure.

The Patriots needed Long's production on a day when back-court partner Andre Cornelius shot 3 of 9 and missed all four three-point attempts; Ryan Pearson, the team's second-leading scorer who returned from a one-game absence with a hamstring injury, had seven points on 3-of-10 shooting; and foul-plagued Mike Morrison went scoreless.

Reserve forwards Louis Birdsong and Johnny Williams provided a boost by combining for 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

Denzel Bowles, a 6-foot-10 junior, had 20 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists for the Dukes, who committed 20 turnovers (eight by Wells) in losing their seventh straight in Fairfax and falling in the series for the 13th time in the last 14 meetings.

The Patriots scored the last eight points of the first half to go ahead for good and grew the lead to 13 with 10 minutes left. Later, Long's 18-footer made it 65-53, but the Patriots ended the game by missing 6 of 7 field goal attempts and committing three turnovers.

"We helped them a little bit," Larranaga said. "We got into a little bit of a hurry on a couple of passes that ended up being thrown to the right guy but not maybe at exactly the right time."

George Mason led by six when Trevon Flores made a three-pointer and Luke Hancock missed in the lane with 20 seconds left, setting up the tense finish.

"They made a run, they started making shots and, next thing you know, the score is getting closer and closer," Long said. "We were like: 'Hey, this is about composure. This is a big game.' "

Patriots Notes: Freshman guard Rashad Whack (2.2-point average) slipped in the shower and dislocated his left shoulder Friday. He was scheduled to be evaluated this weekend. . . . Freshman forward Paris Bennett (three games) underwent wrist surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company