Patriots end losing streak against Virginia with 63-59 season opener win

GMU v UVA - slideshow dvd

“Push! Push! Push!” coach Paul Hewitt screamed to his young team from the edge of the court.

The second year coach of the George Mason University Patriots men's basketball team wanted to make a point of emphasis to force the tempo against a undermanned University of Virginia Cavaliers team. 

Hewitt's plan panned out in the end for his Patriots. 

Junior guard Byron Allen's 13 total points, his clutch three-point jumper with 1:02 left in the game and final two free throws secured the Patriots’ 63-59 win on Friday at the Patriot Center.

His three-pointer from the top of the right arc sealed the game for Mason against an opponent the Patriots had never beaten in their history.

"[The win] feels pretty good," said Allen. "This year we had to focus on turnovers and not turning the ball over. We know if we don't turn the ball over we will win a majority of our games." 

Mason turned the ball over 10 times, a major improvement from last season's 20 turnover game against the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. UVa was entering the season, fresh off the success of last season's NCAA Tournament appearance. However, the losses of key players like Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski were apparent on this year's young, inexperienced team

"UVa's a great team," said Allen. "Last year we went in and lost to them at their place. It was just great to come out on our home court and beat them." 

Mason had trouble hitting free throws all night, missing 10 of 17 foul shots in the second half alone. 

The Patriots started the scoring early when redshirt junior guard Sherrod Wright scored a deep three-pointer less than 30 seconds into the game. After a huge UVA steal, Anderson shot a clean three-point shot in retaliation, tying the contest. 

After the UVa's steal, the game became a shootout.

The Patriots shot an impressive 50 percent from behind the arc as a team and 54 percent from the field, both higher than the team's free throw percentage (42.1 percent) which must change if the Patriots intend to make a run at the postseason this year. 

Mason looked impressive without starting center Erik Copes and reserve Vaughn Gray, especially with Hewitt's decision to start redshirt sophomore Anali Okoloji. The 6'8" forward provided the Patriots with intensity all over the floor, diving for loss balls, defending on the perimeter and making opportune hustle plays. Okoloji was in the starting lineup to open the game and was a force to be reckoned with on the court, showing his Brooklyn-style of tenacity on the floor. 

Hewitt emphasized the importance of pushing the tempo on UVa early who was playing without their starting point guard Jontel Evans and back-up guard Teven Jones. With six fast break points, the Patriots made it a goal to get out in transition when the opportunity presented itself.

UVa senior guard Joe Harris was forced to carry the load at point guard for the Cavaliers, leading all scoring and rebounding with 19 points and eight rebounds. Wright led the Patriots with 15 points at the shooting guard position. 

Freshman forward Marko Gujanicic added to the Patriots' scoring with six points and seven rebounds, leading the team in rebounding. Johnny Williams was efficient, scoring 11 points while shooting 71 percent from the field on mostly baseline and midrange jumpers. 

“[Marko] is an experienced freshmen,” Hewitt said. “We’re very happy with this win. But, we’re on to the next challenge of the season.” 

The win was the first victory Mason has had against the Cavaliers in eight meetings with their in-state foe. 

Mason's next competition will come against Bucknell University on Tuesday Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. The Bison beat a typically strong Purdue University team on Friday Nov. 9 and have one of the top centers in the nation in Mike Muscala, who finished the 2011-2012 season averaging 17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. 

Photos by C2M Photo Editor Dakota Cunningham.

Video of the second half highlights (Filmed and edited by Nathan Garduno)

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