Mason falls to Florida International in OT

Mike Morrison hangs his head after the final buzzer sounds in the Patriots' loss to the Panthers. Morrison finished with 10 points in the losing effort. (John Powell).

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Ryan Pearson is, undoubtedly, the leader of the Patriots.

His 28-point effort to open the season on Friday night was just a glimpse of what the preseason first team All-CAA selection can provide to Mason in new coach Paul Hewitt’s up-tempo offense. But, with the ball in his hands and the clock running down in two consecutive games, Pearson has failed to deliver in the clutch.

With time winding down and the Patriots trailing by three points, Pearson got the ball on the right side. After a series of pump fakes, he stepped into the defender and had an errant shot attempt fall short and the Patriots fell in their second consecutive overtime bid.

“It was designed to get [Vertrail Vaughns] a shot in the corner,” Pearson said. “The play got broken down and I tried to get up a shot. I should have taken that extra second for the outlet.”

Pearson finished the night with 18 points and 10 rebounds in his second consecutive double-double to open the season.

“Regardless of what I do out there,” Pearson emphasized. “If we don’t win, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Much like Friday night’s grueling overtime victory over Rhode Island, Mason struggled to find a rhythm against the Florida International full-court press defense. They lost 21 turnovers that accounted for 24 Panthers’ points, bringing their season total to 38 giveaways in just two games this season.

“We just tried to force things,” Hewitt said. “You’ve got to get used to seeing that traffic in the middle of the floor and not force it in there.”

After fighting to stay in the game, the Patriots took the lead with three minutes left on a 3-pointer by Sherrod Wright from the top of the key. Wright, who had 16 points on the night, connected on three long-range attempts in key situations to give his team a chance to win the ball game.

“He wasn’t really himself in the first half,” Hewitt said. “But he bounced back nicely in the second half, made some key shots and really put us in position to win that game.”

To begin overtime, Mason fell behind early and was forced to fight yet another up-hill battle to keep the game within reach. On consecutive possessions, Vaughns splashed home two big 3-pointers to pull the game within three points, setting up the final botched play of a disappointing 79-76 defeat.

“We’re going to come in tomorrow, the same way we always do,” Pearson said. “We’re going to do our shootaround and prepare for Monmouth.”

Mason will take on the Hawks on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in the consolation round of the NIT Preseason Tipoff.



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