Men’s basketball fought until the very last second of Thursday’s game against George Mason, but the effort was not enough to stay in the Atlantic 10 Championship and continue its season.
In a match that saw eight lead changes and seven ties, sophomore guard Terry Nolan Jr. drilled a three-point shot to halt a 7–0 run by the Patriots and turn the match into a one-possession game with three seconds left on the clock.
But the No. 5 Patriots converted two free throws down the stretch to take the final lead of the game 61–57 and stifle the No. 12 Colonials’ chance at the A-10 crown in the second round of the tournament.
“It would have been easy to cash in the chips and just say, ‘You know what, let’s lay down,’” head coach Maurice Joseph said. “But we didn’t do that. We have a resilient group.”
The Colonials’ defense seemed to find its footing in the high stakes win-or-go-home tournament, holding both opponents it faced to below-average shooting. The Patriots average 70.5 points per contest but struggled to break past 60 points against GW’s zone defense.
Junior guard Justin Kier led a lopsided offense for the Patriots – leading the floor with 26 points on 10 made shots – while the rest of George Mason’s offense lagged.
Senior guard Otis Livingston ended the game with 12 points after being held scoreless through 17 minutes of play in the second half. Freshman guard Jordan Miller, who scored 17 points against the Colonials in the teams’ last meeting, had four points to his name when the final buzzer sounded.
Joseph said the team focused on slowing down the tempo of the game on defense to make it a “half-court game.”
“I kid you not, almost everything that we talked about in our meetings last night as a staff and this morning as a staff and with our entire team, we executed,” Joseph said.
The Colonials dished out 14 assists on 21 made shots in the match and ended the game shooting 35.0 percent from the field on the day.
“We wanted to get in and kick the ball out to the open player and trust him that they were going to make the right play,” redshirt junior guard Armel Potter said. “We made a lot of right plays tonight. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up with the win.”
The Colonials were without redshirt junior guard DJ Williams, who sat out the day’s game with a head injury sustained in Wednesday’s contest against Massachusetts, according to an athletic department spokesman.
But GW spread its shooting to make up for the loss with five Colonials racking up nine or more points. Potter led GW with 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting while sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla chipped in 10 points, four assists and five rebounds. Sophomore forward Javier Langarica contributed to the effort posting his fifth double-digit rebounding night in six games, collecting 12 rebounds and nine points on the day.
“I thought he was a monster the last two games,” Joseph said. “He really, really battled. And he knows he’s not the biggest, strongest, most physical guy, but he’s in there sticking his head in every bar fight there is to stick his head in.”
The three-ball was falling early for the Colonials, who went 2-for-2 from the perimeter to pick up their first six points of the game. GW led 6–2 before the Patriots found consistency from the floor, going on a 9–2 run to jump ahead 11–8 with 15:08 in the half.
The Patriots embarked on scoring runs often, holding the Colonials scoreless for minutes at a time throughout the matchup, but GW made it difficult for the Patriots to pile on the points and George Mason never boasted more than eight points over GW.
After giving up seven unanswered points, the Colonials briefly stabilized in the final three minutes of the first half. GW put together a 5-for-6 showing from the floor to knot the score 31–31 heading into the locker room.
The Colonials held the Patriots scoreless through the first three minutes of the second half as junior guard Justin Williams drilled a three and a free throw to snatch a four-point advantage. The Patriots aptly responded with a four-point swing of their own to once again tie the game.
The Colonials and the Patriots kept the game within inches, never allowing more than a three-point lead throughout the middle minutes of the second half.
With the score knotted at 47 points apiece, GW embarked on its final scoring run of the game sparked by a three-point shot by Potter with 8:51 left in the half. Sophomore guard Maceo Jack added to the run with a layup and Mazzulla capped the eight-point run with a bucket from the perimeter to push GW ahead 52–47 – its largest lead of the night – with six minutes left in the game.
But the rest of the half belonged to the Patriots, who outscored GW 14–5 in the final five minutes of play.
A George Mason dunk and a trio of free throws by Kier and Livingston edged out GW and pushed the scoreboard to 52–52.
Langarica interrupted the run with a dunk to put GW up 54–52 but a three-point shot by Livingston – his third of the game – tipped the game’s momentum in the Patriots’ favor.
George Mason tacked on four more points before Nolan’s three, but with the ball going back to the Patriots and three seconds left in the game, GW was forced to foul to slow down the clock and earn another possession.
The Patriots capitalized on the free shots to take the win at the charity stripe and end the Colonials’ season.
Joseph will return his entire roster next season barring any transfers, so even after the close loss he said the team has “nowhere to go but up.”
“Obviously this year we didn’t get the results we wanted throughout the course of the year,” he said. “We’re disappointed with the season we’ve had overall obviously. But I’m incredibly encouraged by the growth that our players have shown.”