The George Mason Patriots came into Saturday's match up with the Rhode Island Rams without a conference win in the Atlantic 10, but has defeated an Atlantic 10 opponent this season. Confused? The Patriots and Rams met up together in Fairfax in November, as part of a previous scheduling agreement. Mason won that one 61-54 courtesy of 16 points for Sherrod Wright.
That game was a long time ago and probably even longer for Patriots' fans. George Mason had their hearts broken in a last minute loss to #16 UMass on Wednesday 88-87 and also lost against Saint Joseph's 84-80 in the Patriot Center last Saturday.
Rhode Island has suffered similar heartbreak in the Atlantic 10, losing to Saint Louis by one point and also falling to La Salle and George Washington to kick off the conference year.
So basically what we had Saturday afternoon in Kingston was two teams desperate for a spark in the A10.
From the tip-off it looked like Paul Hewitt's Patriots were the team more hungry for a win. Anali Okoloji sunk a lay up to give George Mason a 20-8 lead with 9:41 left and force a Dan Hurley timeout.
Hurley timeout seemed to work, as the 12 point margin would be the largest of the half for the Rams. Xavier Munford nailed two threes in the final eight minutes and finished the have with 10 points to cut the Patriots' lead to just 29-25 at the half.
In the second half Rhode Island kept cutting the Patriots lead to a one shot game but could not draw even with the Patriots until an Munford layup with 13:10 remaining. It would be the first time the game was tied since the beginning of the game.
The next natural step for the Rams was to take the lead and after nearly two minutes of very sloppy basketball E.C. Matthews gave URI a 39-37 lead. From there on out the play of Matthews and Gilvydas Biruta would help the Rams build their lead up to 6 points with just under four minutes left in regulation.
Munford hit his biggest shot of the game with 1:19 left to take the Rams lead from two points to five points after an official review to see whether his shot was indeed a three pointer or, perhaps a two. Mason's Patrick Holloway would rush down the court to once again bring the Patriots within one shot game at 53-50 with 1:03 remaining.
Munford's heroics would dissipate a bit after he coughed up the ball with 32.9 seconds left and sent Okoloji to the free throw. Okoloji would rattle in the first free throw and swish the second to bring the Patriots with one point.
Next, it was URI's T.J. Buchanan's turn at the free throw line. The Rams captain would nail both free throws the expand the Rams lead by to three points with 25 seconds left. Sherrod Wright would then draw a foul from the Rams and we once again had a 1 point game with 18 ticks left on the clock.
Mason did a good job of trapping Munford in the corner on the next in-bound, but the Patriots fouled the Rhode Island star much to Paul Hewitt's frustration. After a miss and a make from Munford, we'd have 2 point game with 15 seconds left when Jalen Jenkins would draw yet another foul. The redshirt freshman Jenkins would make both of his free throws to tie the game at 56 with 11.2 seconds remaining.
Jenkins would also be the defensive hero of regulation as he blocked E.C. Matthews' potential game winner as regulation expired to send the game into overtime.
Rhode Island looked like they may sneak away in overtime but Okolji's second three-pointer of the year would bring the game to 62-61 with just over a minute to go. Munford responded for URI with a three of his own to give the Rams a four point advantage.
In a similar sequence to the first half, Munford would once again get trapped by the Patriots on an inbound but drew a foul. He'd go to the line and just hit one of his two free throws to keep the Patriots within a one shot game.
Mason had their shot to tie the game with a jump hook from Jenkins with 7.2 seconds left, but the freshman missed and Rhode Island would gain possession of the ball.
E.C. Matthews went to the line with 4.8 seconds remaining and made just one of two attempts to give the Rams a 69-66 lead.
In the most unbelieavable turn of events Matthews fouled Bryon Allen on a halfcourt three point attempt with 2.2 seconds left. Allen shoots 84% from the free throw line and had no problem with all three free throws to once again tie the game, this time at 69.
Rhode Island would hurl the ball down the court and Biruta would catch it and attempt an off balance shot. The shot attempt would result in a foul as a George Mason had his arms up to defend the long heave from URI. Biruta would nail both of his free throws to give the Rams their first Atlantic 10 victory of the year 71-69.
In short, it was one of the most strange endings to any college basketball game this year.
Biruta would finish the afternoon with 17 points, while Munford lead the Rams with 28 and Matthews added 14. Holloway, Wright, and Allen would all finish in double-figures for Mason.
Rhode Island will now look to build on today's victory with a Wednesday trip to St. Joseph's. Mason has now lost 9 out of their last 11 games and will continue their quest for their first A10 win at Fordham on Wednesday as well.
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