Buckeyes blow out Patriot hopes

Mike Morrison was just not enough to stop Jared Sullinger's work under the basket. Sullinger totalled 18 points in the matchup (John Powell)

In ten years, not many will remember this Patriots team. Not many will remember the fact that these Patriots are tied for the best record since the 2005-06 Final Four team. 

Not many will recall Johnny Williams’s eight points to help Mason down Villanova for the first time in school history. Few will remember the VCU Rams making it further than Mason and Old Dominion in the NCAA tournament, or that the Monarchs, who won the CAA, lost in the first round.

People will still be talking about the size and athleticism of the Final Four team, and a comment may slip in that if Mason was that big, they may have had a chance against the Buckeyes.

But the No. 1 George Mason Patriots (27-7) will give their fans no more memories. They were unable to pull the upset Sunday night against the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (33-2). Without their leading scorer from the first round, sophomore forward Luke Hancock, or another one of his 18-point performances, an undersized Mason team fell in a 66-98 blowout. 

It is a letdown not just for the players, but for the fans who hoped that a team statistically better than in 2006 could once again make a miracle run to the NCAA’s Final Four. 

Head Coach Jim Larranaga found out about Hancock’s illness just hours before game time, a bad case of food poisoning, with all of the side-effects. When the coaching staff decided to put senior guard Isaiah Tate into the starting lineup, they hoped it would give them more of an edge on defense.

“Actually caught us by surprise,” Long said. “We really wasn’t (sic.) aware of what was going on. We definitely could have used him tonight, don’t get me wrong. He’s a great player. And we actually tried to use that as motivation.”

And they may have had the advantage to begin the game. Ohio State missed shots to open the game as Mason went on an 11-2 run. They held a nine point lead only fifteen seconds, at the 16:22 minute mark before the Buckeye’s David Lighty started his career night.

“We had him as a likely shooter,” senior guard Cam Long said, “but, I mean, sometimes when you just have that night, you have that night. And tonight was his.”

Starting with that shot, Lighty went 9-of-10 from the floor and a perfect 7-of-7 from the 3-point arc. As junior forward Ryan Pearson needed to help junior forward Mike Morrison guard freshman forward Jared Sullinger, he was split between Sullinger and Lighty. 

The plan did not work. Sullinger scored 18 points off of Morrison and Lighty finished with 25 points. The outside guards, primarily Long, Tate and Andre Cornelius, could not keep up with the guards. Jon Diebler finished with 13 points and William Buford totaled 18. The two went a combined 8-of-15 from 3-point range and kept the Patriots’ offense quiet.

“With Sullinger inside and that many weapons outside, it seemed like everything that we tried to do defensively, they had an answer for,” Larranaga said. “And then at the other end of the floor, we were kind of expecting we were going to be able to score the ball better than we did, but their defense was very, very good.” 

It turns out that playing VCU and Villanova, who have taken 823 and 604 3-point attempts, did not prepare them for a 3-point shooting team. But the Buckeyes may have been the most poised team they have faced all year.

“They were well-prepared for this game,” Pearson said. “And they executed all the Xs and Os on offense, and pressured us and got us out of our comfort zone a little bit on defense, and they just played – and they controlled the game the whole way.”

Long and Pearson finished with 16 and 13 points, but most came against a relaxed Ohio State team who had settled into a comfortable double-digit lead. 

As the game got out of hand, Larranaga emptied his entire bench except for freshman walk-on Thomas Armistead. If nothing else, next year’s team had plenty of NCAA experience from the game.  Next season will not come soon enough for those still on the team. 

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