- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 4, 2012

A man stood in disbelief outside the ticket window at the Patriot Center, staring the sign that read: “sold out.”

It meant bad news for both the fan standing in the rain and for visiting Old Dominion. George Mason had lost just one sellout game in school history coming into the contest.

That statistic didn’t change Saturday afternoon. A capacity crowd of 9840 — including a male and female group of shirtless students with painted stomachs, a band conductor with a cream suit, fedora and cane and a handful of students in “blue man” outfits— watched as the Patriots celebrated homecoming by defeating Old Dominion, 54-50.

“I had strict orders from [assistant athletic director] Jay Marsh to make sure the scoreboard worked,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “And by working I mean, we had more than them. We did it barely.”

“I thought of all the times I’ve come here, this game was there for the grabbing,” Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said.

George Mason (19-6, 11-2), who leads the Colonial Athletic Association with over 70 points per game, got the win despite turning the ball over 21 times and shooting just 27.7 percent from the floor, including 20 percent in the first half on its way to a 26-20 halftime deficit.

Hewitt said Mason was “nearly getting blown out in the first half.”

But in the second, George Mason kept Old Dominion (15-10,10-3) scoreless over a 7:51 stretch to take a 32-28 lead, a lead they would never relinquish.

CAA co-player of the week Ryan Pearson had half of the points during the 12-0 run. He led all scorers with 17 points, 11 of which came from free throws.

As a team, George Mason made half (27) of its points from the foul line compared to Old Dominion’s 10, despite the Monarchs switching to a zone defense in an attempt to stay out of foul trouble.

“If they hadn’t gotten to the free throw line, they were having a hard time getting that slot machine to ding that they just put up there in the middle,” Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said in reference to the scoreboard. “You can’t guard them at the free throw line, and they kept getting there.”

Pearson added 10 rebounds for the double-double. Old Dominion forward Chris Cooper also finished with a double-double, despite playing just 23 minutes because of foul trouble.

“[Cooper] gets two maybe calls in the first two minutes and that just changes the whole day for him and for us. We were a hodgepodge from that point forward trying to steal minutes,” Taylor said.

Taylor, who was heckled by a George Mason fan that thought he had a likeness to comedian Rodney Dangerfield, added with a laugh: “They ‘aint going to send anyone to Guantanamo Bay for what those two calls were.”

Old Dominion cut the lead to three with 4:08 remaining. But the Patiot’s lone 3-pointer in 10 attempts, a bank shot from Corey Edwards, stretched the lead to six.

“”When I shot it, it felt kind of funny. So I’m like, either it’s going to be off the backboard or it’s going to be an airball; one or the other,” Edwards said. “Thank god it went in.”

“He’s going to try to convince me he wanted to put it off the glass,” Hewit said. “I told him, ‘I grew up in New York just like you. I know’”

Old Dominion again cut the lead to three with 45 seconds remaining. This time it was a missed 3-pointer from Old Dominion guard Trian Iliadis that all but sealed the deal.

Iliadis, who led Old Dominion with 13 points, nailed a three with two seconds remaining to settle the final score.

But not before five more free throws from Pearson sealed the game, prompting a “Fear the Beard” chant.

“We knew that they wanted this game to be 55 to 50, but we tried to push it,” Pearson said. “It didn’t work out like that, but fortunately we got the win.”