AJ Wilson had 14 points and 11 rebounds for George Mason, which had a 48-27 advantage on the glass.
“That obviously was a great, great win for our guys,” Patriots Coach Dave Paulsen said. “I thought we showed tremendous heart, grit and for the most part really good composure. Obviously this is a really good team and a really tough place to play.”
That poise surfaced in particular down the stretch when George Mason’s 17-point lead had shrunk to 67-64 with 42 seconds left. The Patriots went 5 for 6 from the free throw line the rest of the way to thwart the comeback bid in front of an announced crowd of 7,637, the 149th consecutive sellout at Siegel Center.
The Rams (17-7, 7-4) used a 23-9 run to claw within a single possession but went only 3 for 16 from three-point range until a flurry from behind the arc in the waning minutes put George Mason briefly on its heels.
De’Riante Jenkins led VCU with 16 points, and Issac Vann had 13 points in the Rams’ second loss at home this season. Their only other loss at Siegel Center came against Rhode Island on Jan. 11.
“Not much to say,” said Jenkins, who added that VCU Coach Mike Rhoades wrote the lopsided rebounding margin on the chalk board in the locker room after the game to remind his players of their undoing. “That was basically the story of the game. They just wanted it more than us tonight.”
The win, meanwhile, serves as a most encouraging sign for George Mason, which had been in a rut without Justin Kier, the only senior in the regular rotation and the Patriots’ most valuable player.
After winning 11 of its first 12 games for the program’s best start in 36 years, George Mason had been laboring over the past month since a foot injury suffered by Kier, who was selected second-team all-conference and the Atlantic 10’s most improved player as a junior.
Kier initially suffered a stress fracture during the preseason, forcing him to miss six games, but he did not have surgery at the time, instead taking a cautious approach with the hope he would be able to contribute during the conference schedule.
But he wound up aggravating the injury during practice Jan. 14, just three games into Atlantic 10 competition and one game after he scored 18 points to spark a 76-63 win against La Salle. This time Kier had surgery, and he remains out indefinitely.
The Patriots won Wednesday for only the second time since Kier reinjured his foot.
“I give a ton of credit to our guys for staying resilient,” Paulsen said. “We’ve been through a rough patch with the injuries, with some tough losses, but every day it’s fun to go to practice.”
Ailments to others in the regular rotation, most notably senior guard Ian Boyd, who is out for the season because of an injured wrist, have taken a toll as well. But coming off their first practice since mid-December with all of their healthy players available, the Patriots emerged energized.
Their surge reached its peak with a 16-0 run midway through the second half that produced a 58-41 lead with 6:31 to play, and George Mason hung on despite 19 turnovers and 20-for-29 shooting from the foul line.
The Patriots had four players score in double figures, and each of the eight in the rotation collected at least three rebounds.
“Coach told us going into the game that the game plan was they’re really physical getting on the offensive glass, but by the same token, we can abuse them the same on the offensive glass,” Wilson said. “Coach just told us, ‘Everybody just crash, like just be a superstar in your role.’
“I just felt like everybody on the team just took it within themselves to crash the glass as hard as they can.”