Every now and then, a team coming off a surprise victory is ripe to be upset the next time out. American might well have hoped that would be the case in last night's ECAC South opener at George Mason.
Well, George Mason, which raised a few eyebrows over the holidays with its 61-60 triumph over host Alabama-Birmingham in the UAB tournament championship, did not let a big win bring on a big head. The Patriots jumped all over the outmanned Eagles early and hit them with 66 percent field-goal shooting en route to a 104-78 victory before 2,224 at the George Mason Gymnasium.
The Patriots (5-4) got solid efforts from Carlos Yates (25 points, five rebounds), Rob Rose (career-high 26 points, nine rebounds) and Ricky Wilson (18 points, five assists) in winning for the 18th time in their last 19 home games.
American (3-6) got 21 points from Frank Ross and 16 from reserve guard Mike Sampson.
"At times, our defense was good. At times, it was bad," said George Mason Coach Joe Harrington. "I was surprised we shot the ball so well. We haven't been that good of a shooting team this year but even our subs came in and shot well."
With Ross and Jim Lutz getting four points each in the early minutes, the Eagles kept pace to 10-10. Then, the Patriots began to pull away.
A 12-2 run, eight points by Yates, sent the hosts to a 22-12 lead at the 8:51 mark. Aided by a technical foul against the American bench, Mason got five more points from Rose, who made eight of nine field goal tries, and four from Brian Miller as the lead stretched to 31-14.
"I needed a big game like that," said Rose, averaging only 13 points and 6.5 rebounds before last night. "The coach said I hadn't been as productive in recent games."
Rose and Yates had plenty of help last night. Mike Dufrene helped Rose on the boards and Miller helped out the scoring as the hot Patriots began running past the Eagles. While AU was getting a basket every four possessions, seven Patriots were scoring as they took a 42-27 lead at intermission.
AU had no inside game at all. The Eagles managed only three offensive rebounds and had 10 turnovers in the first half.
"We are concentrating on playing better defense," Yates said. "We are off to a good start and we're working hard each game. We want to play this well each game."
If GM could play this well each night, 20 victories would be assured. In the first seven minutes of the second half, the Patriots put on a shooting clinic. Wilson, Yates and Rose sank jumper after jumper as GM made 14 of its first 17 shots from the field. Rose made three straight baskets, including a flying layup to end a three on one break, to give his team a 66-43 lead with 13 minutes to play.
"Rose really played well and Ricky came on in the second half after playing a bit tentative in the first half," Harrington said. "We got on him a little bit."
American Coach Ed Tapscott tried all kinds of combinations and defenses. Nothing worked. The Eagles, who hadn't given up 100 points in five years, were virtually helpless.
"We could have played soft and kept the score down, but I don't believe in that," Tapscott said. "We'll learn from this and use this one as incentive."