Men's hoops survives against UNCW to stay first in CAA

CAA Player of the Year candidate Ryan Pearson led the Patriots to another victory Monday night over UNC Wilmington as he erupted for 20 points and 12 rebounds (John Powell).
CAA Player of the Year candidate Ryan Pearson led the Patriots to another victory Monday night over UNC Wilmington as he erupted for 20 points and 12 rebounds (John Powell).

Fairfax, Va.– Despite another sloppy, turnover-plagued performance, the Patriots (16-5, 8-1) were able to take down conference foe UNC Wilmington (8-11, 4-5) by a final count of 67-61 for their ninth win in the last 10 games. And more importantly, the win kept them alone atop the CAA standings.

After a sluggish nine-turnover first half, George Mason came out of the locker room for the second period a fresh and newly energized squad. Clinging to just a 23-22 lead at the break, senior guard Andre Cornelius sparked the team with a three from the top of the key, followed by back-to-back dunks from senior leader Ryan Pearson to open up a more comfortable 10-point margin.

The Patriots were on an impressive 23-5 run dating back to the 7:30-mark of the first half.

The Seahawks never quit, however, as they fought back and even cut the deficit to just one point with 10 minutes left on the game clock.

“Wilmington hung tough,” head coach Paul Hewitt said. “We felt we put a pretty good punch on them at the start of the second half, but they battled right back into the game.”

Although Mason could never really pull away, it all came down to too much Pearson for the Seahawks to handle. After a below average output against Towson Saturday afternoon, the CAA Player of the Year candidate exploded for 20 points and 12 rebounds. This was his eighth double-double of the season.

“We just issued a challenge to him before the game,” said Hewitt about Pearson’s rough game against Towson. “We said, ‘look if you’re going to be the player of the year in this league you can’t have games like you have four rebounds.’”

Pearson and the Patriots beat the Seahawks 44-14 in points in the paint. Mason shot an abysmal 1-16 from beyond the arc despite having several open chances, but were able to dominate the interior.

Not only did they dominate the paint in terms of scoring, but they were also able to outrebound UNCW 44-39, which has been a major focus point for Hewitt and his team.

Sophomore guard Bryon Allen also provided a major spark for the lackluster Patriots offense, as he erupted for a career-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Most of his baskets came in transition, but his decision-making was solid throughout the contest.

“Jump-shots weren’t falling, but that left gaps open for me to penetrate and get to the cup. That’s what I like to do best,” Allen said.

Allen’s input was key as fellow starting guards Cornelius and Vertrail Vaughns combined for just 3-of-15 from the floor and 11 points.

Senior Mike Morrison was never able to get into a rhythm offensively, aside from two open dunk opportunities. He contributed just six points, but was able to grab 10 boards.

Perhaps the deciding factor in the contest was the Patriots’ defensive pressure, as they held the Seahawks to just 36 percent shooting from the field for the game.

“The thing that’s really been the constant for us all year is the reason why we won the game, we’re defending really well,” Hewitt said.

The Patriots have another quick turnaround as they hit the road to face Hofstra Wednesday at 7 p.m. This will be their third game in just five days.

“For us, we just got to keep working, we can’t get comfortable,” Pearson said.

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