George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt got a little glimpse into the future during GMU’s 61-59 victory over Georgia State University. Seniors Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson fouled out, putting the focus on an underclassman with the game in the balance and only seconds remaining. Bryon Allen stepped up.
After a steal and length of the court finish by GSU senior guard James Fields, GMU coach Paul Hewitt called a timeout with 18 seconds to go and the game tied 59-59. Then, with the clock ticking down, Allen sliced and diced his way into the middle of the paint. He used the basket to his advantage as he scooped underneath to toss up the reverse layup with only 3.4 seconds on the clock. GSU’s last second half-court prayer was not answered.
“I was like, five seconds on the shot clock, time to go to the rim,” sophomore Allen said. “Lucky it went in.”
The win moves Mason to the semi-final of the CAA tournament.
GMU (24-8, 14-4), who lost their previous two games coming into the tournament, was much better in key areas that were to blame for the Patriots mini-skid. GMU only committed 13 turnovers and their defense allowed a mere 59 points, holding the Panthers to just 19-51 from the field.
No one was more ferocious on either side of the ball than GMU senior forward Mike Morrison. He had a team-high 12 points and 7 rebounds.
Morrison anchored the Patriots defense; he came up with a game-high 4 blocks, all in important stretches of the game. He was also the emotional leader while fellow senior, and CAA player of the year, Ryan Pearson was plagued with foul trouble for most of the contest.
“I think he is one of the best defensive players in the league,” Hewitt said about Morrison. “When he is on the floor and he’s the back of our defense, I know we are going to be good… he’s a very, very smart player both offensively and defensively.”
The Panthers came out early with energy and determination. GSU willed themselves to an early 22-11 lead when sophomore Devonta White hit a three-pointer with 9 minutes and 39 seconds to play in the first half.
It was not until the 16:57 mark in the second half that GMU was able to claw themselves back to a tie 34-34 on a made free throw by Vertrail Vaughns. GMU was able to keep the momentum going over the next several minutes. A swift baseline drive and dunk by sophomore Sherrod Wright gave GMU their biggest lead of the game 52-46 with 7:24 to go.
Poor foul shooting helped lose the game for the Panthers (21-11, 11-7). GSU was just 17-30 over the course of the game, including key misses down the stretch.
“It’s been our Achilles heel all year,” GSU coach Ron Hunter said. “We didn’t make them when we needed to.”
Up next for the third-seeded Patriots is the VCU Rams. This will be the third time these two clubs have played over the last three weeks, with the home team holding serve in both.
“We definitely are ready to play them again,” GMU forward Mike Morrison said. “We won at home, they won at home. It’s a neutral floor here, just ready to crack down on our mistakes and try to get this win.
The Patriots and Rams will play at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday in the Richmond Coliseum. The game will be televised by Comcast SportsNet Plus.