TOWSON, Md. | Dominating six minutes usually isn’t enough to secure a victory in basketball.
Nonetheless, it did the trick for George Mason in its conference opener Saturday.
The Patriots trudged to a 65-53 victory before 1,202 at the Towson Center, parlaying their fast start and a lethargic finish into a defeat of a team almost a year removed from its last triumph.
Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson both scored 14 points for Mason (6-2, 1-0 CAA), which has upended the Tigers (0-7, 0-1) in their last 18 meetings.
“I thought we were overanxious,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “We got that great start and we got the bench in the game and it looked like guys were anxious to get a shot off. I wasn’t pleased after the opening segment of the game. We didn’t play to our strengths. We started hurrying. There were catches we were bobbling because we were trying to go so fast.”
Indeed, Mason spent much of the game stuck in neutral, and for no obvious reason —- especially after a quick start.
The Patriots scored 13 points in their first five possessions, a torrid pace no opponent could hope to keep up with. Mason pushed its lead to 21-7 with a Bryon Allen basket a little more than six minutes in, and seemed set to predictably pummel an undermanned Towson team that has lost 26 consecutive games.
Except it didn’t happen. The Patriots’ bench was sluggish, accounting for more fouls (six) than points (four). Mason couldn’t convert a plethora of offensive rebounds. And Towson, to its credit, was efficient from beyond the 3-point line and kept the margin around 10 for most of the night.
“We tried to keep fighting,” Morrison said. “Things go bad sometimes. It’s a game of runs. We tried to extend it further, but never really got the chance to do that. Hopefully we’ll be able to in the future.”
It is evident Mason, which won its fourth straight, still doesn’t possess all the pieces it figured to have even a few months ago. Point guard Corey Edwards missed his second straight game with a concussion, though Hewitt said the freshman “should be OK for Tuesday” at Virginia. And senior Andre Cornelius must still sit two more games before his suspension is lifted.
Without either, the Patriots seemed frazzled and disorganized on the perimeter, even if it didn’t result in a surplus of turnovers. Perhaps most telling was the offense didn’t work its way through Pearson, who tried a season-low five shots.
“It’s a league game now,” Hewitt said. “If you’re playing for the team and trying to put yourself in position to be a better team, it doesn’t matter. We have two guys here [Morrison and Pearson] who I have supreme confidence playing through. If they’re on the court with you, there’s no need to rush. If you don’t have something good, find them and they’ll make something good happen.”
Ultimately, Mason needed someone to pull something off in the closing minutes. The Tigers closed within 56-51, but Sherrod Wright’s dunk made it a three-possession game. Vertrail Vaughns then hit a 3-pointer with 1:05 to go to snap an 0-for-14 drought from long range and seal the win.
It was a plucky performance from the Tigers, who went winless in league play a year ago and were almost universally picked to occupy the CAA cellar again. And while their effort was admirable, it didn’t do enough to satisfy their first-year coach.
“We cut it to five, but we didn’t come out the right way, which was disappointing,” Towson coach Pat Skerry said. “We blew some assignments defensively and had some turnovers. I’m pleased with the effort, but the effort’s been pretty complete. We were smarter tonight. You have to play hard and intelligently, especially where we’re at right now, to win against good teams in this league.”
History and the current standings assert Mason was and remains one of those programs. On a day when 10 of the CAA’s dozen teams opened league play, the Patriots were able to dodge the unexpected results that ensnared both conference favorite Drexel (lost at Delaware) and preseason sleeper William and Mary (32-point loss to Georgia State).
Yet it wasn’t a picture-perfect outing, either.
“I’m just going to chalk it up to inexperience,” Hewitt said.
When the Patriots pick up more experience, one thing is unlikely to repeat itself from Saturday: Cruising along thanks to just six superb minutes.
—- Patrick Stevens