George Mason continues to show a flair for the dramatic in Fairfax. It’s the fundamentals that are killing the Patriots’ men’s basketball team this season.
For the second time in four days, the Patriots staged a valiant comeback at home, rallying from a seven-point deficit in the final minute of regulation Tuesday to force overtime against Towson.
But the failure to rebound misses in the last minute of the extra period led to Bilal Dixon’s go-ahead basket with 37 seconds left and allowed the Tigers to end a 20-game losing streak to the Patriots, 85-81.
Towson had never won a game in the series since joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001-02. But after relinquishing the lead amid a flurry of missed free throws and George Mason three-pointers, the Tigers scored the last six points in overtime.
“It was a great effort at the end” of regulation, Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt said. “We just didn’t have enough to finish the job.”
Jerrelle Benimon, a Fauquier High graduate and Georgetown transfer, scored 22 of his career-high 31 points in the first half for the Tigers (17-13, 12-5). Jonathan Arledge scored 17 and Erik Copes had 13 points and a career-best 15 rebounds for the Patriots (17-12, 10-7), who will close the regular season this weekend at Delaware.
Last Saturday the Patriots overcame a 13-point second-half deficit and defeated William & Mary on Copes’s jumper with a half-second left. On Tuesday, they were trailing 76-69 with 63 seconds remaining when Towson’s Jerome Hairston missed a pair of free throws. Freshman Patrick Holloway, whose shooting led Saturday’s comeback, made a three-pointer with 50 seconds to go.
Hairston followed by missing two more foul shots, but Dixon grabbed the offensive rebound and made 1 of 2 from the line with 41 seconds left for a 77-72 lead.
Holloway, the 2012 All-Met Player of the Year from Paul VI, made another three-pointer 12 seconds later, then stole the ball in the back court. Anali Okoloji made 1 of 2 free throws with 24 seconds remaining, cutting the deficit to one.
Marcus Damas (23 points) converted two foul shots with 19 seconds left and Holloway missed a three-pointer, but Arledge snared the rebound and found Okoloji for a tying three-pointer with 1.9 seconds to go.
Corey Edwards’s basket at the start of overtime gave the Patriots their first lead since 13-11, but Benimon’s jumper tied it and Dixon’s offensive rebound alone under the basket on a three-shot possession restored the lead, 83-81.
“When we have lost games, it’s because we don’t rebound the ball, which I don’t understand because coming into the year, we thought our inside play was the strength of this team,” Hewitt said.
Benimon then blocked Copes’s 15-footer and Damas’s free throws sealed it.
“They handed us the game,” Holloway said, “and we didn’t take it.”
The Tigers had a 44-39 rebounding advantage, a factor the Patriots harped on repeatedly afterward. “I should have had 20,” Copes said.
After forcing overtime, he added, “I felt we were going to win, but it just came down to rebounding.”
It also came down to allowing Benimon too much freedom in the first half. A strategy of double-teaming when he picked up his dribble had worked well in the first meeting, a 77-67 Patriots victory in which the 6-foot-8 junior shot 5 of 15.
George Mason did its job in the second half Tuesday, preventing Benimon from making another field goal until 2 ½ minutes remained. But his 8-of-9 shooting before intermission, including a career-high three three-pointers, allowed the Tigers to claim a 46-36 lead.
The Tigers, who won one game last season, are second in the CAA but ineligible for the league tournament for academic reasons.