The final statistics Saturday looked plenty appetizing to George Mason forward Mike Morrison.
There were 14 points, 15 rebounds and one more Patriots victory.
“That’s Ryan Pearson numbers,” Morrison boasted.
The Patriots needed nearly every last bit of Morrison’s help precisely because Georgia State negated Pearson’s prowess.
Pearson didn’t make a shot from the floor in a 61-58 triumph before 5,191 at the Patriot Center, making Mason’s fifth straight win an all-around victory.
“They’re going to make you play like that,” Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “They took Ryan away from us. Credit to them. I like the fact our guys hung tough, made our free throws and pulled out a win.”
Pearson still finished with 10 points for the Patriots (12-4, 4-0 CAA), who claimed sole possession of first place in the conference after snapping the upstart Panthers’ 11-game winning streak.
It was still an impressive showing for Georgia State (11-4, 3-1) just three days after upending Virginia Commonwealth on the road.
“The days of Georgia State just showing up and it’s a win, those days are over,” first-year coach Ron Hunter said.
Vertrail Vaughns scored a team-high 17 points for Mason, helping the Patriots crack Georgia State’s ever-shifting defenses.
The most obvious byproduct, of course, was Pearson’s quiet evening. His four field goal attempts were his fewest since a four-shot night last season against Drexel —- a tough, tenacious team content to engage in low-scoring rock fights, much like the Panthers.
“Especially forwards in our matchups and our switching defenses, they get kind of lost sometimes,” Hunter said. “The kids that hurt us are the guards that shoot. The first half, those kids made threes. We took the threes away in the second half. We don’t guard just one player. I wish that was the case, because we would have won the game tonight.”
In the first half, it was Vaughns who opened things up for Mason, making three 3-pointers. Yet the Patriots’ 31-23 edge at the break rapidly evaporated, and they needed another burst to create a cushion.
That came with a three-possession push featuring a Morrison dunk and fastbreak layups from Vaughns and Andre Cornelius to open a 42-34 lead.
“They did a good job just pressuring all over the court,” Morrison said. “It wasn’t just Ryan. We had a tough time getting any good shots. We eventually settled down, worked the ball and eventually figured out how to push the ball so they couldn’t set their defense.”
That lead didn’t last, either, with the Panthers eventually claiming one-point advantages on two occasions.
Some separation finally occurred in the final minute when Morrison tipped in a Pearson miss to give Mason a 54-51 advantage. Georgia State’s Josh Micheaux was called for an offensive foul on the next possession, and the Panthers never again had possession with the chance to tie.
That locked up the Patriots’ third win in six days. With first place all to itself, Mason at the moment has figured out a solid formula for success.
“I think we’ve learned that once we click and play well together, offense and defense and stick together and fight through toughness, we’ll be tough to beat down the stretch,” Morrison said. “It’s going to be really hard to beat us.”
—- Patrick Stevens