- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009

George Mason proved vulnerable to turnovers and second-chance points early Tuesday night against Dayton.

Even after reversing course for much of the second half, both problems resurfaced at the worst time for the Patriots.

The Flyers stretched out their lead in the final minute thanks to George Mason’s miscues, then held on for a 56-55 victory before 5,727 at Patriot Center.

Dayton nursed a four-point edge when George Mason forced the Flyers into a poor shot. But London Warren collected the offensive rebound, then made a free throw. The Patriots’ Luke Hancock was stripped at the other end, and Dayton added a pair of free throws to make it 54-47.

“That’s all it takes in a one-point game like this - one extra opportunity,” said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, whose team’s 18-game home winning streak was snapped. “In their particular case, they’re very good at it.”

Freshman Sherrod Wright scored 17 points, nearly tripling his career best, for the Patriots (4-5), who trailed by 18 early in the second half before nearly rallying past a team that was ranked earlier this season.

George Mason’s woes were obvious throughout the first half. The Patriots went 14:31 without a field goal at one stretch and often looked frazzled in the face of Dayton’s pressure. The deep Flyers (6-2) prevented George Mason from establishing itself on the offensive glass, leading to plenty of abbreviated possessions.

“We knew it was going to be a very speedy game,” Patriots guard Cam Long said. “We knew they were going to come at us, and we were going to go right back at them. I think we didn’t come out together as a team and really didn’t play defense, and they just outrebounded us in the first half.”

Turnovers, though, were an even greater problem. At least with the plethora of missed shots, the Patriots had a chance to gather themselves on defense. But Dayton scored 17 points off 10 turnovers, building a 35-19 lead at the break.

“That really sealed our fate in the first half,” Larranaga said.

It didn’t, however, thwart George Mason’s attempt to climb back into the game. The Patriots uncorked a 17-2 run, exploiting crisper passing and a patient approach to more than pester the Flyers.

In the middle of it all was Wright, who outshone his opposing namesake - Dayton forward Chris Wright, a formidable talent who battled foul trouble and was limited to two points. Sherrod Wright was perfect from both the field (4-for-4) and the line (8-for-8), and his play reflected the way George Mason turned a potential rout into a tight game.

“That’s how we really started our comeback - we just played hard and got big rebounds, and then we just ran,” Wright said.

However, it took a pair of 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds - including Wright’s at the buzzer - to bring George Mason within a point. And one strong half couldn’t prevent George Mason from sinking below .500 after nine games for the first time in 10 seasons.

Still, it’s clear what the Patriots must improve going forward - even if George Mason isn’t playing in quite the same way Larranaga envisioned in the preseason.

“In the last two games, we’ve given up 56 and 52,” he said. “So if we can keep that up and cut our turnovers and improve our scoring and get our scoring up into the 70s, which is where we like it, then we can be very effective. Right now, we still have both sides of the ball to work on.”

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