- - Thursday, March 8, 2018

George Mason’s Green Machine, one of the country’s top college pep bands, was at its best, pounding out tunes from the northwest baseline at the Capital One Arena on Thursday afternoon. Under the leadership of Doc Nix (Michael Nickens), the Green Machine was reveling in its first-ever appearance at a conference basketball tournament in the nation’s capital.

Despite the band’s raucous backing, the Patriots basketball team wasn’t having nearly as much fun — at least early on.

“There was a little too much panic in their eyes,” said coach Dave Paulsen of his team, one of the youngest in the country.

No. 5 seed Mason trailed by 14 midway through the first half to No. 13 seed UMass, but the Patriots came through at the foul line down the stretch and captured an 80-75 victory in the Atlantic 10 Basketball Championship before a crowd of 6,483.

“That was a great win for our guys,” Paulsen said. “I thought UMass played really well. They made shots. With the exception of the first couple of minutes there were contested shots. But I like the way our guys buckled down.”

The Patriots (16-16) will now face No. 4 seed Saint Joseph’s on Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Mason beat the Hawks twice in regular-season play this year, both on last-second shots.

George Mason junior guard Otis Livingston II had 15 of his 21 points after halftime against UMass and he made all 14 free throws. Teammate Goanar Mar had 16 points, and reserves A.J. Wilson and Javon Greene added 11 points off the bench. Wilson, of Laurel, Maryland, added nine rebounds in just 13 minutes of play.

“This is something we are comfortable with,” Livingston II said of close games. “We are really comfortable in close, tight games down the stretch. (The Hawks) are a good team with great players. It is going to be tough.”

George Mason (16-16), which beat UMass in overtime twice in regular-season play, made 13-of-13 free throws in the first half Thursday and 28-of-31 overall. The Patriots attempted 17 more shots than UMass and had 20 offensive rebounds and 26 second-chance points.

Livingston II made two free throws with 2:01 left to give George Mason a 75-73 advantage. Mar hit one of two free throws to give the Patriots a lead of 76-73 with 28.3 seconds left.

UMass got the ball and called a timeout with 22.8 seconds remaining to set up a possible game-tying shot.

The Minutemen got a field goal to make it 76-75, but Mar hit two free throws to give Mason a 78-75 lead with 4.1 seconds left.

Luwane Pipkins was called for an offensive foul with 1.4 seconds left, much to the ire of UMass coach Matt McCall, and Livingston made two free throws with 0.7 seconds to finish the scoring.

UMass (13-20) was led by Carl Pierre and Pipkins, who each had 15 points in the first half.

Pierre was held to just two points in the second half while Pipkins ended with 31 points despite the defense of Greene.

“Pipkins is a great player,” Greene said. “I just trusted in my teammates. I played to my best ability.”

The Patriots trailed 53-45 midway through the second half after a 3-pointer by Pipkins.

But George Mason stormed back and took its first lead since the opening minute after a basket by Mar made it 55-54. Malik Hines of UMass hit two free throws for a 71-69 lead but Livingston II of Mason responded with a twisting layup to make it 71-71 with 4:09 to go.

“I wanted to be aggressive. I knew they were in the bonus and I would go to the line (with a foul). Be aggressive and attack the rim,” Livingston II said.

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