Vaughn Gray had the look on the wing. A slight change in the spin of the ball, a slight change in the wind blowing through the arena in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and maybe the 7th place game in the Puerto Rico tournament finishes different.
Gray's last second shot spun around the basket and popped out, leaving George Mason a point short, and on the losing end against College of Charleston, 61-60.
Charleston and George Mason had been on the losing end of some tough games in the Puerto Rico tournament. Neither is expected to contend for their league titles, so facing up against the big boys in this tournament has given neither much confidence.
The Cougars were on the losing end against UConn and Texas A&M, the latter made tougher because of an injury to Adjehi Baru which could have derailed their season even more. Mason went down to West Virginia and New Mexico.
But matched up in the 7th place game, it was an opportunity for both of these teams to face an opponent that wouldn't dominate them, where they had a chance to work on the things that will hopefully give them more of a fighting chance in their respective leagues.
Baru returned for Charleston to score 10 points off the bench, along with grabbing four rebounds, while Canyon Barry did the lion's share of the work on offense, finishing with 17 points and four assists in the win.
Mason was led by Shevon Thompson, who had 12 points and was dominant on the glass with 14 rebounds.
What did we learn in all this?
- Baru needs to remain healthy for this Charleston team to succeed. He played 30 minutes and was a second point guard on the floor. His athleticism was perfect for combatting the more aggressive Mason frontcourt. In short, he is a leader, even if the output isn't always at the top. He has earned a little rest time after this tournament, which he gets until Nov. 29. He needs to be in top shape before that West Virginia game.
- Mason did strong job of hammering the offensive glass against Charleston. This wasn't the case of a team giving up on the boards, this was a Mason team that just fought for a number of second chance opportunities. That is in strong contrast to what they were able to do in the first few games this season, and it is a big turnaround for the Patriots. Thompson was the main man in this respect with six, but everyone was right there for the follow.
- Tired legs were certainly a factor for both of these teams. Combined, they shot 8-for-26 from 3-point range, and if the ball didn't get into the inside, it was likely a miss. Obviously they have been playing teams that are bigger and stronger, and this is the third game at a stretch, but it was really telling how the play has been wearing on the the two squads. If there is one place where mid-major teams can gain an advantage early in the season, it is with conditioning. Both teams have a lot of work to do.
- The final possession for Mason was not the finest coaching moment for Paul Hewitt. His players pushed the ball too far into the backcourt with only five seconds remaining on the clock. They moved too slowly to start the play, and by the time Gray had the ball in his hands, he had no opportunity to move to get the look on his shot. He still had a pretty nice chance of sinking the shot, but with even a couple more ticks on the clock, he steps to the side and has an open lane to shoot in. He isn't twisting in the air to avoid a block and that last shot is in. This is the most important possession of the game, and it was set up in a timeout just prior. You need to be more ready for how to execute.