Both men’s basketball and George Mason went into Saturday’s matchup with the same record and conference slates that placed them both in the bottom half of the Atlantic 10.
So when the contest was tied with little combined offensive success after nearly 39 minutes, neither squad was in an unpredictable spot.
But over the next six minutes, the Patriots stole the game’s momentum away and began to command both sides of the court. They went on a 16-2 run that included three different three-point makes and enough defensive pressure to frustrate GW’s offense.
The Colonials (10-15, 3-9 A-10) responded with a 7-0 run and brought the difference to as close as four points. GW had chances to force turnovers and the Patriots had chances to miss free throws, but in the end George Mason (11-14, 5-7 A-10) held on for the 72–65 win.
“When you’re going to pull off a comeback like that, you got to have field goals drop,” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “We did have a couple of them, just not quite enough, and we fell short.”
Although he was encouraged by his team’s fight at the end of the game, he said allowing 13 offensive rebounds was the biggest limit to a GW victory.
“Anytime you give up 13 offensive rebounds and 17 second chance points, it’s going to be hard to win on the road, at home, anywhere in this league,” Joseph said. “If we get four of those back, we win the game.”
The Colonials extended their record away from D.C. to 0-10 with just three regular season road games remaining. They are now in sole possession of last place in the A-10, one game behind Fordham, Massachusetts and La Salle.
The loss stopped GW from winning its first back-to-back games of 2018 after a home victory over La Salle Wednesday. It also snaps GW’s nine-game winning streak against the Patriots since George Mason joined the Atlantic 10 four years ago.
Last time GW played the Patriots – on Jan. 17 – the Colonials snapped a four-game losing streak with an 80–68 victory at the Smith Center. The Colonials had benefitted from a dominant defense against George Mason’s top scorer, junior guard Otis Livingston II.
On Saturday, GW was faced with constant high screens that both gave Livingston more openings and created separation for the Patriots’ other guards. Four George Mason players finished with 11 points or more despite the team shooting 2.7 percent lower on the year.
GW was paced by senior guard Yuta Watanabe’s late-game scoring success. He scored all of his 19 points in the second half, but also grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds – 10 of which were in the first half.
Despite early troubles, the Colonials still looked to feed Watanabe the ball on nearly every possession in the final minutes.
“They did a great job of guarding me but I stayed focused because I knew I have to score,” Watanabe said. “I think I did a good job on that stretch but it wasn’t enough so I’ve got to be aggressive.”
Sophomore forward Arnoldo Toro also stood out on the interior with 10 points and no fouls until the final minute. Sophomore guard Jair Bolden joined Watanabe in double-digits with 11 points off the bench.
Bolden was not part of the starting lineup for just the third time of the season. He still played nearly 30 minutes and was especially important after freshman guard Terry Nolan Jr. went down with an ankle injury just after halftime.
Nolan later returned to the game, but Joseph said he was still “limping pretty bad.”
“We’ve got a bunch of injuries on our already not very deep bench,” Joseph said. “We’re trying to figure out where guys are at.”
The Colonials went on a 7-0 run in the opening four minutes and took a small lead behind a couple short-distance baskets from graduate student forward Patrick Steeves. But George Mason responded with a 7-0 run of their own that lasted for just a few minutes.
Both sides struggled to make shots at times in the first half, even when open shots were taken. GW trailed by as many as seven points with six minutes to go in the first half after a 1-for-11 stretch from the field, but Bolden sank the team’s first three of the game to cut the margin to one possession.
Less than a second before the break, Nolan found his way to the free throw line and sank both shots. The Colonials trailed 26–25 at halftime.
After more than three minutes of second half play, Watanabe found the bottom of the net for the first time and Bolden scored consecutive baskets to knot the game up at 33. The Patriots hit a three just prior to the under-12 timeout, but freshman guard Justin Mazzulla matched it with one of his own.
Both GW and George Mason shot more than 10 percent better in the final 20 minutes than they did in the opening 20.
The Patriots’ offensive momentum continued as the Colonials’ staggered – leading to George Mason’s big run. GW scored only one field goal during more than six minutes of second-half action.
The Colonials return to action Wednesday when they travel to Amherst to take on Massachusetts. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.