The George Mason players must have heard just the right words from Coach Joe Harrington at halftime of last night's Colonial Athletic Association game between the Patriots and James Madison at Patriot Center. And Kenny Sanders must have listened especially well.
George Mason beat the Dukes, 74-59, before 4,031 by outscoring James Madison, 47-26, in the second half.
The victory lifted George Mason to 11-9 overall, 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association; James Madison is 4-14, 2-6.
Sanders, a 6-foot-5 freshman from Washington's McKinley Tech, had 26 points (nine of 16 from the field) and seven rebounds. It was the sixth time in his last seven games he has scored at least 20 points.
"(Sanders) is a smart ballplayer," said Harrington. "He gives us another solid rebounder and another scorer."
Sanders was complemented offensively by Rob Rose, who totaled 23 points and six rebounds. Guard Ricky Wilson had 13 points, including six in the final six minutes, which helped George Mason put the game out of reach.
When James Madison closed to 60-57 with 5:28 to play, Wilson sandwiched two jump shots around two free throws by Sanders and the Patriots led, 66-57, with 2:56 left.
It took George Mason 35 minutes gain a comfortable cushion over the Dukes (whom George Mason had beaten, 74-57, in their Jan. 4 game in Harrisonburg, Va.) for two reasons. Todd Banks, a 6-6 forward, made inside baskets throughout the game for James Madison and finished with a career-high 32 points. And the Patriots lacked offense and rebounding in the first half.
Banks scored 15 in the first half as James Madison built a 33-27 lead.
"We got caught on the high side against him," Harrington said. "We left the basket unprotected. (Banks) caught the ball very easily."
James Madison also outrebounded the Patriots, 16-6, in the opening half. The Patriots evened it up in the second half and were only outrebounded for the game, 27-24.
The Dukes had their biggest lead, 31-23, with 1:53 to play in the first half on Robert Griffin's jump shot. Rose hit two long field goals and Banks made a layup for the halftime score.
At the half, Harrington said he discussed ways of stopping Banks, but, "I was much more emphatic about the offense than the defense," he said.
Whatever he said worked. George Mason, which had not led since the opening basket, outscored the Dukes, 6-1, in the first 1:30 of the second half. When Sanders converted an exquisite blind pass from guard Earl Moore, the Patriots had their second lead, 35-34, with 17:30 to play.
With 9:35 to play, Brian Miller stole the ball and passed to Wilson for an uncontested fast-break dunk and Mason led, 54-49.
The Dukes cut their deficit to 60-57 with 5:28 to play as Brent and Banks scored consecutively.