Rarely did a possession unfold without a whistle or a nutty play. Missed dunk? Check. Four-point play? Yup. Intentional foul? Uh-huh. Video review? Sure.
Befitting the odd night, the Patriots allowed a 24-point lead dwindle to five in a seven-minute span before clinching an 89-83 victory — their 16th in the past 17 meetings with the Dukes.
On the bright side, leading scorer Ryan Pearson (19 points) regained his touch after two duds and the bench produced 49 points, led by freshman Vaughn Gray’s career-high 19, Sherrod Wright’s 15 and Jonathan Arledge’s career-high 12.
The Patriots (13-5, 5-1) shot 57.8 percent and held the Dukes (8-9, 1-5) to 38.5 percent to maintain a share of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. But they also committed 21 turnovers, continued to yield piles of offensive rebounds (14 on Saturday, 66 in four games) and lost their composure at the end of each half.
“It’s a win,” Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt said. “It’s all we can take out of it — it’s a win. There are some things we’ve got to work on coming out of it.”
Hewitt will fondly remember most of the first half and a large chunk of the second. He, and everyone else in the arena, will try to forget everything else. The 63 fouls tied a CAA single-game record set by George Mason and Navy in 1984.
The teams combined for 89 free throw tries, with the Patriots’ 48 two short of the program record set 13 years ago against the Dukes. They attempted three more free throws than field goals.
The continuous interruptions were a result of a tightly officiated game but also slow-footed defending and poor decisions.
“It was kind of out of our hands,” Pearson said of the pace.
Nonetheless, Pearson established himself right away and rebounded from 1-for-13 shooting in the previous two games. He received front-court help from Mike Morrison (12 points, three blocked shots) and Arledge, who compensated for Erik Copes’s absence. Copes sat out with shoulder and back soreness after taking a hard fall at Drexel on Thursday — a game in which he blocked seven shots in the first half.
Wright, projected to be among George Mason’s top scorers this season, hadn’t reached double figures the previous nine games and lost his starting job to Andre Cornelius on Thursday. On Saturday night, though, he made 6 of 9 shots and added six rebounds and three assists.
“It feels good to get back into the flow,” Wright said. “I was real energetic, really into the game, and once I picked my defense up, I knew everything would go well.”
It also went well for Gray, who scored 14 points in the second half and made three three-pointers.
The Patriots made eight of their first nine attempts. With an 18-12 lead, they embarked on a 10-2 run.
The fouls and James Madison misses piled up. Other than Enoch Hood’s dunk, the Dukes scored exclusively from the free throw line during an eight-minute stretch. Meantime, the Patriots made 12 straight from the line, Gray hit a three-pointer and Pearson scored from the baseline for a 45-23 lead.
The Dukes, however, scored seven straight to end the half and the first three after the break. With Gray scoring 10 points in four minutes, the Patriots expanded the lead to 78-54. But the Dukes forced nine turnovers in about five minutes. Arman Marks’s three-pointer trimmed the deficit to five with a minute to go, but Gray followed with two free throws.
“Our energy went down,” Wright said. “We’ve got to learn how to close out games better.”
Devon Moore and Humpty Hitchens had 19 points apiece for the Dukes, who were 27 of 41 from the free throw line.