No, George Mason's Rob Rose isn't just lucky. He really can shoot.
The 6-foot-5 forward, left unguarded often tonight, made three 18-foot jump shots down the stretch to enable the Patriots to hold off surging Navy, 78-74, in a ECAC South game before 2,635 at Halsey Fieldhouse.
"Maybe after I hit the first one, they thought I was just lucky," said Rose, who ended with 21 points, on nine-of-13 shooting from the field, and eight rebounds. "Or maybe they didn't think I could hit the J (jumper). The coach told me if I was open to take the shot. Just stroke it."
George Mason (9-8 overall and 4-3 in the conference) led throughout, opening up what looked like a comfortable 69-60 lead after jumpers by Rose and Mike Dufrene with 4:30 remaining in the game.
But the Patriots were aware that Navy (14-3, 7-1) had an 11-game winning streak, had won 11 straight ECAC regular-season games and had been victorious in their last 15 games here.
Therefore, to win this one George Mason knew it had to play good defense, work the clock and take only high-percentage shots. That was translated as: contain Navy's 6-11 David Robinson (25 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks), take the first open shot and let Carlos Yates or Rose take the 16- to 18-footers.
"If you tell them not to shoot, they might tighten up," George Mason Coach Joe Harrington said. "We wanted to work the ball until we got a good shot and Rob hit some really big ones."
Navy cut its deficit to 69-66, following four points by Kylor Whitaker (18) and a steal and dunk by Vernon Butler (18). At that point, Rose took aim at Navy's heart.
The Midshipmen's defense shut off everything inside and prevented Yates from getting the ball. He still ended with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
"They were using a triangle-and-two against us and that freed Rose outside," Yates said. "We knew he would be open if they stayed with that defense. I was fortunate to get the ball over to him."
George Mason worked the ball around Navy's defense to Rose, who never hesitated in putting up a long jump shot for a 71-66 lead with 2:45 to play.
Robinson's 12-footer seconds later made it a three-point game. But Rose was all alone again when he made another shot from almost the same spot with 1:58 left.
Navy missed on its next possession and Yates made one of two free throws for a 74-68 advantage with 1:29 left.
Navy got as close as three again, 75-72, after a basket by Butler with 52 seconds to play. But the Patriots managed to play keepaway for 30 seconds before Navy finally fouled Ricky Wilson. The guard sank both shots and Mason was home free.
"Every time we got close, they would get an advantage," Navy Coach Paul Evans said. "We missed our free throws (making only 18 of 28) and didn't rebound well. Just no consistency."
Navy could do little with Yates (17 points) and had a hard time solving the Patriots' defensive tactics against Robinson in the first half, but trailed by only 36-35 at intermission.
Yates, who according to Harrington was in fine rhythm, scored 10 of the Patriots' first 12 points. Yates made seven of 11 shots in the half and Rose added 10 to offset Navy's 54 percent shooting.
Despite George Mason's physical tactics and double-teams, Robinson got loose in the second half, scoring nine of his team's 10 points in a four-minute span. But Navy still trailed by 46-45.
"Our strategy was to deny Robinson the ball, but he's everything people say about him," Harrington said. "He's a fine player."
Rose, who got three fouls in what appeared to be five seconds while defending Robinson, said, "His arms are so long and, once he got the ball, he just threw it in."
Mason then outscored Navy, 11-4, to go ahead, 57-49, at the 9:56 mark. Brian Miller had seven of the 11 points and Yates the other four.
"We have other people that can shoot the ball," Yates said. "We came into this prepared and we maintained our concentration. We haven't been doing that lately. If a defense is designed to stop me, I look to pass to Rob, Brian or Ricky. They can shoot, too."
Navy stayed close before Dufrene made both of his baskets, Rose hit his first big shot and Anthony Davis sank two free throws to put the Patriots ahead by nine.