Pearson and the Patriots prevail against JMU for 10th CAA win

Senior Ryan Pearson made his case for CAA Player of the Year yet again as he carried the Patriots with 29 points and 15 rebounds in their win over JMU Saturday afternoon, 89-79 (John Powell).
Senior Ryan Pearson made his case for CAA Player of the Year yet again as he carried the Patriots with 29 points and 15 rebounds in their win over JMU Saturday afternoon, 89-79 (John Powell).

Fairfax, Va.– It was the Ryan Pearson show Saturday afternoon in Fairfax.

The senior forward erupted for 29 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks, including 16 points and 13 rebounds in the second half alone.

“My teammates basically just got me the ball in the right spots, I found myself open a lot,” Pearson said.

Thanks to Pearson’s CAA Player of the Year caliber performance, Mason (18-5, 10-1) prevailed in a close contest against rival James Madison (10-12, 3-8) by a final count of 89-79. As was expected for a matchup against JMU, the Patriot Center was packed, the student section was loud, and the Green Machine was rocking at full force.

“I think the crowd got him up for the game honestly,” said head coach Paul Hewitt about Pearson. “I think he was especially ready for this game, I think the crowd, the whole atmosphere, Doc Nix and the band, it was a great atmosphere out there.”

This was Pearson’s ninth double-double on the season. Entering the game, he was averaging 17.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest, thus improving on both aspects significantly against the Dukes.

“I think he’s the best player in our league and he played like it again today,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt is not the only coach who believes Pearson is the best player in the CAA. JMU head coach Matt Brady described Pearson as the toughest matchup problem in the conference, and even admitted to being glad he may never have to face him again.

“He is an absolute throwback,” Brady said. “He is a ‘60s, ‘70s basketball player […] the speed of the game doesn’t bother him, athletes don’t bother him, size doesn’t bother him. He has a way of playing you can’t get him to speed up his game.”

Pearson is just the fourth player in Mason program history with 1,200 points, 600 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 assists, and his remarkable stats simply continue to climb.

“He’s got a great feel for basketball, he just knows how to play,” Brady said.

Aside from Pearson, starting guards Bryon Allen and Vertrail Vaughns stepped up with 14 points apiece and Andre Cornelius chipped in with 10 to round out the double-figures scorers for the Patriots.

Vaughns was just 2-of-5 from beyond the arc, but was able to find other ways to score the basketball.

“I had to mix up the game a little bit,” Vaughns said. “You all normally know me as shooting threes, so I had to get off the line a little bit and attack the rim more.”

Freshman Erik Copes also returned to the lineup for the first time since the game at Drexel on Jan. 12. He gave the Patriots 13 big minutes off the bench and contributed four points and five rebounds.

Senior Humpty Hitchins was the story of the day for the Dukes as he exploded for 27 points, 17 of which came in the first half, to go along with seven assists.

“The kid [Hitchins] made some tough shots and I think that got them rolling a little bit,” Hewitt said.

Although Mason took a 43-41 lead into the locker room at the half, JMU led at one point 40-36 after going on a 13-2 run, and Hitchins scored 11 of the 13 points over that stretch. He provided a major spark all afternoon and kept the Dukes in the game.

Outside of Hitchins and the rest of the guards for JMU, they had very little output from inside the paint. Mason outscored the Dukes 48-24 inside, which proved to be the difference in the game. The Patriots also outrebounded the Dukes 45-29.

With Mason remaining atop the conference standings at 10-1, they will continue to get every team’s best shot. They will head to Delaware to face the Blue Hens next on Feb. 1 in a 7 p.m. contest. The Patriots return home for the marquee conference game of the season against Old Dominion on Feb. 4.

“It’s going to be an interesting February, we’re playing some quality teams,” Hewitt said.

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