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.