Mason men's basketball ends three-game home skid with last-second win over Tribe

Sherrod Wright pulls up for a baseline jumper in win against William & Mary Saturday (Photo by Maurice Jones).
Sherrod Wright pulls up for a baseline jumper in win against William & Mary Saturday (Photo by Maurice Jones).

Finding the right balance between starters and bench, the George Mason men’s basketball team managed to erase a double-digit deficit in the second half to defeat conference rival William and Mary, 60-58 at the Patriot Center on Saturday.

The Tribe had a one-point lead at halftime but quickly increased it in the beginning of the second half. Up until the 11:14 mark of the second half, it seemed highly unlikely that Mason will snap its three-game losing streak at home. The Patriots (17-11, 10-6 CAA) were losing by 13, with the Tribe both shooting and rebounding the ball better. In addition, Mason’s foul trouble gave the Tribe (12-15, 6-10 CAA) a free-throw bonus with over 10 minutes to go in the game.

“[William and Mary] came in here playing really, really well. I knew it was going to be a tough, tough game,” said Mason coach Paul Hewitt.

All the advantages came to no avail for the visitors because what followed was arguably the best stretch of basketball by the Patriots this season. Mason went on a 19-1 run to tie its largest lead of five at 56-51. Sophomore guard Marcus Thornton ended the Tribe’s field-goal drought with a three-pointer with 1:17 to play.

The last seconds of the game were filled with drama. Tim Rusthoven tied the score at 58 with 14 seconds to go, giving Mason the chance to win the game on the last possession. Junior guard Bryon Allen drove the ball to the basket and put it in the hands of Erik Copes, who sunk a 10-foot jumper from the right elbow with a second to spare.

“We wanted to put the ball in Bryon’s hands,” Hewitt said. “We ran a couple of fake ball screens, just to see if we could get a crease or a gap that he could drive. Jon went first and Erik went second. I thought Erik actually might’ve gone too high, but we got what we wanted. Erik made the shot.”

Copes continued his good form after his impressive recent performances and finished the game with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and a block.

“I’ve never had a game winner before. It was a good thing. We stopped the losing streak at home, [we] got a victory at home. Thank God, because it’s been killing me.”

In addition to Copes’ offensive efficiency, two other Patriots scored in double digits: Bryon Allen (14 points, four assists, three steals) and Patrick Holloway (15 points), who shot 5-of-8 behind the 3-point line. When one of Holloway’s three-pointers gave the Patriots a 51-50 lead with 4:36 left in the game, the sound meters at the Patriot Center reached 100 decibels.

“My point guards kept finding me, and the big men, too,” Holloway said. “The first one I made [was when] the shot clock was winding down. It was a tough shot, but it gave me confidence. My teammates and my point guards kept looking for me, kept finding me. Whether I missed or made it, they just kept coming back and I kept gaining confidence with these shots.”

Besides from the players who kick started Mason’s offense over the 10-minute stretch, coach Hewitt praised the defensive efforts of his team throughout the game, especially the efforts of redshirt sophomore Anali Okoloji.

“The game changer [was that] we put Anali in the game. His length bothered them and we started rebounding, that’s the biggest thing…His rebounding and his physical presence, I thought, changed the game…[in the first half]…[During the stretch]He got 3 quick rebounds in there. Then a blocked shot that lifted us.”

Thornton, who came into the game as the second leading scorer in the CAA (19.3 ppg), scored 22 points and registered two assists in the defeat. He and Rusthoven – 10 points, six rebounds, two blocks – were the only Tribe players who scored in double digits.

The Tribe shot much more efficiently than the Patriots from behind the arc, scoring six more three-pointers than their opponents (11-5). On the other hand, William and Mary committed seven more turnovers (13-6) and their bench was outscored 22-9 by the Patriots.

On Tuesday, the Patriots will play their final home game of the season against Towson at 7 p.m. 

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