TOWSON, Md. — With his team not scoring to his expectation this season, Paul Hewitt had been mulling a change for some time, one that would introduce Bryon Allen back into the lineup in a different role. Admittedly, Hewitt was stubborn about making a move because of the impact it might have on defense and rebounding.
“I am a little thick like that,” George Mason’s coach said with a chuckle.
Hewitt finally surrendered to himself Wednesday night. The result was a renaissance performance by Allen and a strong effort by the Patriots, who downed Towson, 77-67, to take second place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
In his first start since Dec. 2, Allen scored 16 points, one shy of his career high, and added six assists (with no turnovers) as George Mason (12-7, 5-2) led almost the entire game and defeated the Tigers (10-11, 5-3) for the 20th consecutive time.
Sherrod Wright scored 24 points and Marko Gujanicic had 12 points and nine rebounds in a reserve role. But the key was Hewitt’s decision to start Allen, a junior guard, in place of forward Anali Okoloji — and Allen’s response to the promotion.
With Allen on the court, the Patriots enjoyed a second ball-handler to complement point guard Corey Edwards and greater offensive presence than Okoloji offers.
“Slowly it’s been materializing in my mind,” Hewitt said. “I went home after practice the other day, and in my mind when I was driving, I said, ‘Yeah, I am going to make the change.’”
Allen responded with a season high in points on 6-for-7 shooting, which included two dazzling layups in the first half. He made a no-look reverse layup while getting fouled, then finished Edwards’s alley-oop pass by guiding in the ball over his head while turning away from the basket.
“It wasn’t [any] difference at all,” Allen said of the new role. “I was just trying to come in with a lot of energy. I have been playing the [off-guard position] my whole life. I just started at the point last year.”
For two seasons, Allen has struggled in running the offense. He lost the starting job to Edwards about six weeks ago and has had limited impact off the bench.
“I probably should have made this change earlier,” Hewitt said. “We’ll see. It might’ve been a fluke. I don’t think so. We’ll see what happens Sunday [at first-place Northeastern]. The win is great, but it’s important that we find something that we can say, ‘Hey, this might work.’”
In removing Okojali, Hewitt sacrificed rebounding. And it showed. The Tigers snagged 24 offensive rebounds and had a 44-34 overall advantage.
But the Patriots were so potent with the ball, they were able to get away with their flaws. They shot 49 percent and made 23 of 31 free throws, including Wright’s 14-for-17 performance.
Mason went ahead to stay on Allen’s free throw with eight minutes left in the first half. Wright’s six points led a 14-3 run and Allen converted his first acrobatic layup with a free throw for a 35-24 advantage.
The Patriots let a seven-point halftime lead slip to one with 17 ½ minutes remaining but kept their poise in front of 2,005 at Towson Center. The last major threat came with about 2 ½ minutes left. With the Patriots leading by four, the Tigers failed to score on a three-shot possession.
Later, Allen made a double-pump layup and two free throws, and Wright hit four in a row from the line.