The George Mason men's basketball team is aware that if it wants to win the Colonial Atletic Association title, it needs to get the ball to senior forward George Evans. That's what the Patriots did when it mattered most tonight, and Evans led them into first place in the CAA.
George Mason rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit and beat Richmond, 65-63, to move into sole possession of first place in the nine-team league. The Patriots (11-8 overall) are 6-2 in the CAA, a half-game ahead of James Madison and Richmond (both 5-2).
"Had we lost, we're down two [games] in the loss column," George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga said. "You don't want to be down two in the loss column with eight games to go."
The Patriots have won five consecutive conference games, including the last two on the road. Four of their remaining eight games are at home, including rematches with the two CAA teams that have defeated them, James Madison and William & Mary.
The Patriots can only hope that the second half of their CAA season goes as well as the second half of tonight's game did. Richmond (10-8) took a 34-28 halftime lead by constantly double-teaming Evans, who finished with a game-high 19 points but had only two in the first half.
The Spiders extended the lead to 40-30 with 16 minutes 20 seconds remaining, but Patriots senior guard Ahmad Dorsett hit two three-pointers to spark a 22-9 run that left George Mason with a 52-49 lead at the 6:44 mark.
Richmond responded, though, and took a 58-57 lead with two minutes left. George Mason senior Keith Holdan made a layup to put the Patriots back ahead, and after Richmond's Rick Houston missed a three-pointer, Patriots freshman forward Jesse Young made a baseline jumper for a 61-58 lead.
With 38 seconds left, Richmond's Greg Stevenson airballed a three-point attempt, and George Mason's Tremaine Price grabbed the rebound and was fouled. The junior guard hit both free throws to make it a 63-58 lead. But Stevenson made a three-pointer with 11 seconds left, and Richmond fouled Price again.
Price missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Holdan tipped the rebound out to Evans, who was fouled. Evans, a 58 percent free throw shooter, then made both shots to give the Patriots a 65-61 lead with 8.3 seconds to go, and all that remained was a meaningless layup by Richmond's Eric Zwayer with time expiring.
Evans had taken only two shots in the first half, so Larranaga hoped Price--who played only five of the first 20 minutes--would be able to get the ball to Evans, the league's leading scorer with a 19.9 average.
"It's all about the defense," Evans said. "Once we forced them to speed up their tempo and get out of their offense, it was easier for us to get in transition and get in our offense."