Clutch shooting from substitute guard Mark McGettrick sparked George Mason to a 61-56 upset victory over visiting Howard last night in a run-and-gun affair that belied the final score.
McGettrick, entered the game eight minutes into the opening half and played a total of 29 minutes, connected on 10 of 14 shots from the field and both his free-throw attempts to pace the Patriots to their second victory in three games. The Bison suffered their initial defeat after two victories.
The contest featured Howard streaking downcourt on every possession with the Patriots frantically back pedling to cut off the Bison fast breaks. But the Bison, who won last year's first-time-ever meeting between the schools by eight points, shot just 38 percent from the field. Howard's numerous missed layups nullified its slight edge in team speed.
"If they had been successful on all their fast breaks in the first half, we really would have been in a hole," said Mason Coach John Linn. "But they only made three baskets in 12 fast breaks in the first half."
Nor were the visitors successful on any other type shots. -- making only 12 of 31 in the first 20 minutes. Howard, worried by Mason's 2-1-2 zone, committed 16 turnovers in the half. When the Bison were not losing the ball trying to force it in low to 6-foot-10 Dorian Dent and 6-7 junior Larry Spriggs, they were throwing it out of bounds or to an opponent on the fast-break attempts.
But the hosts did not do much better against the Bison's man-to-man defense, committing offensive fouls and misfiring on several "gimme" jumpers and layups. The Patriots, who came into the game shooting 48 percent from the floor, made only 12 of 41 shots (29.2 percent) in the opening half.
Howard, behind a pair of jump shots by substitute guard Louis Wilson and a layup and pair of free throws by Spriggs, outscored the Patriots, 10-4, in the final four minutes of the half to take a 26-24 advantage into the dressing room. Spriggs' free throws, shot with 30 seconds left, were the only ones attempted in the first 20 minutes.
"We made two key changes for the second half," said Linn. "First, we sent one more man to the offensive boards to try and cut down their fast break; second, we got back faster on defense to stop their quick-transition game. In the second half, they had only four fast breaks."
The Patriots built the lead to as many as eight points, 45-37, before Bison guard Nathaniel Speight connected on a jumper, two layups and an offensive rebound basket to key a surge that saw Howard tie the score at 53-all with 1:54 remaining.
Then substitute guard Steve Pearson. who performed well against the Bison press in the second half, found Andre Gaddy open for a dunk that made it 55-53.
After a Bison free throw, McGettrick hit a short jumper from the right baseline for a 57-54 Patriot lead with 59 seconds left.
Gaddy rebounded a missed Bison jumper and passed out to Pearson, who was fouled. Pearson sank both ends of the one and one and the Patriots were home free with a 59-54 lead and 38 seconds left.