There was noise and energy from a sellout crowd, 10 ties and 16 lead changes at the Patriot Center. Was this really Nov. 9?
In an uncommonly intense opening game Friday night, junior Bryon Allen hit the tie-breaking 3-pointer with 62 seconds left and the clinching free throws a minute later, to deliver George Mason its first ever victory over Virginia, 63-59, before 9,840 in Fairfax.
“We thought it would be this kind of game,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “It was a great win for us.”
Missing suspended sophomores Erik Copes and Vaughn Gray, George Mason still flashed its depth, rotating 10 players, and shooting 54.5 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range.
The biggest 3 of the game came from Allen, a 17 percent shooter from beyond the arc last year. With the shot clock expiring and a defender in his face, Allen stepped back and swished a low-percentage fadeaway that gave George Mason the lead for good, 60-57.
“I didn’t have a good look at all,” admitted Allen who missed the Patriots’ exhibition victory over Bowie State last week with a back injury.
Allen (13 points, five assists) led a brilliant shooting performance by the George Mason starters, who combined to hit 20 of 30 shots from the floor and 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.
Slimmed-down sophomore forward Johnny Williams (11 points, three steals) hit 5 of 7 shots from the floor. Junior guard Sherrod Wright (15 points) made 6 of 9. The Patriots’ most effective reserve, freshman forward Marko Gujanicic (6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists), had a promising debut.
“He’s the most skilled player on our team in terms of shooting, passing, ball-handling,” Hewitt said.
For much of the night, Virginia compensated for the absence of its three players best equipped to play point guard – senior Jontel Evans (foot), sophomore Malcolm Brogdon (foot), and freshman Teven Jones (suspension). But after getting through the first 28 minutes with just six turnovers, the Cavaliers made six in the final 12 minutes.
“We had some costly turnovers,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You grow from this kind of atmosphere — great atmosphere, great national anthem.”
George Mason sprinted to a 15-7 lead as Wright hit a pair of 3-pointers and Gujanicic added another. But the Patriots failed to score on their next 11 possessions and the Cavaliers scored 10 straight points to take the lead. After that, neither team led by more than four points.
Sophomore Joe Harris (19 points, eight rebounds) carried Virginia in the second half, pushing the Cavaliers to four-point leads twice, but both times George Mason responded immediately. Then in the final 2:48, Allen took control, scoring seven points.
“I planned on it from the start,” Allen said. “I was going to take over early and get my players involved.”
It was a nice start for George Mason, now playing in a weakened Colonial Athletic Association. A victory over an Atlantic Coast Conference team is a resume builder, but that was the furthest thing from the mind of Hewitt afterward as he reminded reporters that Tuesday’s road opponent, Bucknell, won at Purdue on Friday night.