In the heat of the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball race, with his George Mason Patriots bidding for late-season momentum and a top-four seed in the conference tournament, Coach Dave Paulsen is not going to worry about aesthetics.
Wednesday’s 80-75 overtime victory against Massachusetts at EagleBank Arena was a chore, despite the Minutemen sitting near the bottom in the 14-team standings and missing their best player.
The Patriots (15-10, 9-3) overcame a four-point deficit in the last minute of regulation, then took charge in the extra period before securing the outcome at the free throw line
“It wasn’t a masterpiece by our guys, but we showed toughness,” Paulsen said. “We showed grit and we came up with the stops when we needed to, for the most part, and knocked down free throws.”
Otis Livingston II scored 17 of his 21 points after halftime and added five assists and three steals as the Patriots remained a half-game behind front-running Davidson and Virginia Commonwealth and a half-game ahead of Dayton.
Javon Greene made five of six field goals and finished with 17 points and Justin Kier added 14. Freshman Jordan Miller contributed 10 points and seven rebounds (six offensive).
The Patriots made 6 of 13 free throws in the first half, then 21 of 23 in the second half and overtime.
They scored on all 10 possessions in the extra period but did not clinch it until Miller battled for a missed free throw by teammate Jarred Reuter with eight seconds left and the Patriots leading by three. Greene grabbed the loose ball, got fouled and made both free throws for the final margin.
Commenting on his team’s poise late in regulation and in overtime, Kier said: “I’ve been there when guys have freaked and rushed things and tried to make a big play. Every game we get down . . . all our guys stay calm. We’ve matured to that level where we don’t panic. When we went to overtime, our guys were confident in the huddle, knowing we were going to win.”
For the third consecutive game, the Minutemen (9-16, 2-10) were without junior guard Luwane Pipkins, who is averaging 16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists. They did not miss him Saturday in upsetting first-place Davidson and were poised to knock off the heavily favored Patriots.
Carl Pierre made six three-pointers and scored 26 points. Tre Wood came off the bench to post 13 points, eight assists and four steals.
The Patriots were missing sophomore forward Greg Calixte (4.2 points, 3.2 rebounds), who is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a concussion late in Sunday’s victory over La Salle. George Mason is not a big team, and his 6-foot-8, 225-pound presence was missed against 6-10, 235-pound Djery Baptiste and 6-11, 310-pound Rashaan Holloway.
Matched up with them, Reuter (10 points, seven rebounds) and A.J. Wilson (three blocks) looked like normal-size men.
“That’s a mountain of a man or two mountains of men,” Paulsen said of the large opponents, who combined for only 12 points and seven rebounds but forced the Patriots to alter many shots. Holloway also had four assists.
The first half was horrific. Appropriately, it ended 26-26, allowing the 3,206 witnesses to pretend it never happened. The Patriots shot 34.6 percent from the field, and the teams combined to convert 9 of 19 free throws.
At one point, the Patriots somehow lost track of Holloway on a backdoor layup. The Minutemen were called for having too many players on the court, resulting in a two-shot technical foul. Livingston, an 87.2 percent shooter, made just one.
In the second half, Massachusetts answered every George Mason mini-run and pushed ahead by four with 70 seconds left on Pierre’s fast-break layup. After Miller scored, the Patriots forced a miss and drew even on Kier’s reverse layup in transition with 21 seconds left.
“We all have trust in each other — just trust and, down the stretch, we’re really confident,” Livingston said.