George Mason scraps its way to a key CAA win over Old Dominion
As soon as the halftime buzzer sounded at Patriot Center on Saturday afternoon, Old Dominion Coach Blaine Taylor headed not for his locker room but for the scorer's table.
"Give me the scorebook," he said to official scorer Tim Lander, who complied quickly.
Taylor looked at the book for a moment, found what he was looking for and slammed it down on the table. Lander almost became the first official scorer in basketball history to literally have the book thrown at him. Taylor had wanted to be certain that what he thought to be true was in fact true: his team hadn't shot a single free throw in the first half.
"We took 28 shots from where we shoot and we don't get to the foul line?" he said later. "How is that possible?"
No doubt the lack of free throws bothered Taylor. But what undoubtedly bothered him more was the halftime score: George Mason 24, Old Dominion 21. That's after the Patriots had scored all of four points in the first 11 minutes of the game.
"They missed nine of their first 10 shots and had five turnovers and we were only up five," he said later. "You would have liked to have had more of a margin at that point."
Opportunity lost for the Monarchs, game (perhaps) saved for the Patriots. In the last 29 minutes before a raucous sellout crowd of 9,840, George Mason outscored Old Dominion, 58-36, leading to a 62-45 final score and leaving the Patriots in a first-place tie with Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association.
There wasn't a lot of prettiness to go around in this game, but few in the building really cared about that.
"When you've got a crowd like that, you get on a run of any kind it gives you momentum pretty quickly," said Cam Long, who has been superb during his team's nine-game winning streak - the last loss coming at Old Dominion four weeks ago. "We just had to calm ourselves down in the first half."
Once they calmed down and started to find space against a very good ODU defense, the Patriots took control of the game. Long finished with 14 points and six rebounds and Ryan Pearson, who goes to the basket much the same way Adrian Peterson runs with a football - head down, knocking people out of the way like bowling pins - finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
"He has an unorthodox style," Taylor said. "But it's effective."
Right now, everyone in green and gold is playing pretty effectively. A year ago, with one of the youngest teams in the country, George Mason came apart in the final weeks of the season, losing 8 of 10 to go from the NCAA tournament bubble to a first-round meltdown in something called the CollegeInsider.com tournament.