|Men's Basketball Rally Comes Up Short at South Florida, 61-57|
TAMPA, Fla. - The George Mason men's basketball team mounted a rally that got the Patriots within one possession in the final seconds, but the University of South Florida held off Mason to capture a 61-57 victory on Saturday evening at the Sun Dome. The Patriots finish their non-conference schedule dropping to 7-5, while the Bulls improved to 8-3.
Junior Sherrod Wright eclipsed the 20-point mark for the fourth straight game, leading all scorers with 22 points. He became the first Patriot to do so in 14 seasons, dating back to Jason Miskiri in January 1999. Three Bulls reached double figures, led by 16 points for Jawanza Poland who also had a game-high eight points.
Trailing by double-digits with 4:10 left in the game at 51-41, the Patriots embarked on a 12-4 run over the next 3:37 that ended with Erik Copes sinking a pair of free throws to make the score 55-53. On the subsequent USF possession, Jawanza Poland hit a pair of free throws, and after Corey Edwards was fouled and hit the back end of his free throw attemps, Mason again had it a one-possession game at 57-54. More foul shots came for the Bulls, who did not complete a field goal in the final 6:30, before a last-second layup plus the bonus by Wright set the final score of 61-57.
Mason led early, taking advantage of second chance opportunities with layups by Copes and Wright to take a 4-3 lead at the first scheduled stoppage. Shooting just 2-of-13 to start the game, Wright would keep the Patriots on top with a pair of free throws midway through the first half, 6-5. The teams would swap baskets for the next few minutes, and it was a one-possession game until the 16th minute of the game when Poland made it 17-12.
Mason would eventually eliminate that deficit, tying it up at 22 on a Paris Bennett jumper at the 1:04 mark, and that would stand as the halftime margin. Mason shot just 29 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes including a 0-for-8 mark from 3-point range, but out-rebounded the Bulls 23-20, who connected on just 9-of-27 field goal attempts (33.3 percent) and were 1-of-6 from the free throw line.
USF stormed out of the locker room with a 10-2 run, punctuated by a Victor Rudd alley-oop which left the score 32-24 less than four minutes into the period. The lead grew as large as 13 with just over five minutes to go, before the rally began.
The Patriots will now set their sights on the Colonial Athletic Association, beginning their 18-game conference slate on Thursday at home against Northeastern. Tip time at the Patriot Center is set for 7 p.m.