George Mason Coach Joe Harrington knows you don't stop Frank Ross. What you try to do is make Frank Ross work for everything he gets.
Rob Rose and Ricky Wilson slowed American University's shooting guard well enough, particularly in the second half, to enable the Patriots to squeeze out a 63-59, Colonial Athletic Association victory last night at Fort Myer.
The Patriots, who have beaten American all six times they have met, raised their overall record to 13-10 and their CAA mark to 7-4. American, which ended an eight-game losing streak with an eight-point victory over James Madison Thursday night, dropped to 8-14 and 2-9.
Ross finished with 20 points, only about three below his average, but the 6-foot-2 junior was under heavy wraps when the Eagles needed him. Wilson was all over Ross late in the game, limiting him to three shots in the final nine minutes. Ross did score off a steal to bring the Eagles within a basket, 59-57, with 59 seconds left.
"They did a good job on Frank, but down the stretch we have to get the ball into his hands," Eagles Coach Ed Tapscott said. "If he doesn't get the shot, he can create something for someone else to score."
After Ross' basket, AU's first points since the 4:47 mark, Wilson (16 points) hit a clutch turnaround 14-footer just inside the lane to give the visitors a 61-57 lead with 20 seconds left.
"That turnaround shot may be my best shot right now," Wilson said. "I've been working on that, especially when my defender is smaller than I am. You want to work the clock down, get inside the lane and either get a good shot or get fouled. I got a good shot."
But Wilson still had work to do. Knowing the Eagles would look to their ace, Wilson played tough defense on Ross, and AU's Chuck West (14 points) had to shoot, scoring with 10 seconds left. Rose was fouled on the throw-in and made both shots of a one and one and George Mason was up, 63-59, with eight seconds to play.
Despite Rose's first-half defense, Ross managed 11 points. But American still trailed, 29-26, the 18th time the Eagles have been behind at intermission.
Eric White had three inside baskets and Ross had seven points as the Eagles moved out to a 45-40 lead with 10:56 to play.
But Rose and Wilson, who had only five total points in the first 20 minutes, gave Kenny Sanders (17 points) some help and the Patriots rallied to go ahead, 51-49, with just over six minutes remaining.
White's followup basket tied the score at 51 with 6:35 left. The teams exchanged baskets until Rose (17 points, six rebounds) made two free throws to put George Mason ahead to stay, 57-55, with 4:23 to play.
"Rob had some big points for us in the final minutes," Harrington said. "He made those free throws for us. And Ricky played very well against Ross. He wanted that challenge."
Said Wilson: "Ross has such a quick shot, I want to make it as hard as possible for him to get it off. Just keep pressure on him."
American, which failed to score on six straight possessions, lost the ball on a backcourt call and Rose made a jumper from the corner to give his team a 59-55 lead with 1:40 left.