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George Mason falls to Penn, 72-71

george masonGeorge Mason had a chance to win at the buzzer, but the attempt by senior guard Otis Livingston II came up just short as visiting Penn escaped with a 72-71 victory in the opener for both teams Tuesday night in EagleBank Arena.

Mason led 68-63 with 4:14 remaining in the contest, but the Quakers closed the contest on a 9-3 run to take the victory.

“This was a heartbreaking and devastating loss,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “You have to give credit to Penn. They executed and made big plays down the stretch. Our guys played really hard and were terrific defensively in the last 8-12 minutes of the first half. But they shot 70 percent in the second half and we couldn’t keep their guards out of the lane. We’ve tried to create a defensive DNA and we did that in parts of the game, but we didn’t sustain it.”

Redshirt-junior Jarred Reuter led the Patriots with a team-high 15 points (6-11 FG) in just 17 minutes during his Mason debut, while junior Justin Kier (12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) and senior Otis Livingston II (12 pts, 3 assists) also reached double-digits for the Green & Gold.

Sophomore Javon Greene added nine points and four rebounds in 28 minutes. Redshirt-sophomore AJ Wilson and junior Ian Boyd each also tallied eight points for the Patriots.

Mason led 37-33 at the half, but the Quakers shot 70.8 percent (17-24) in the second stanza to bolster its winning effort. The Patriots shot 51.9 percent in the opening half but just 42.4 percent in the second.

The two teams combined for 35 turnovers in a sloppy evening indicative of a season opener. Mason held a 19-13 edge in points off turnovers and shot 81.3 percent (13-16) from the free throw stripe.

Mason and Penn played to a 10-10 tie through the first six minutes of play, before the Quakers built a 20-15 edge at the 9:50 mark. Mason cut it to two (22-20) on a dunk by AJ Wilson and took their first lead of the game (25-24) on a 3-point play from Otis Livingston II.

Mason went up 33-30 on a Goanar Mar lay-in and a Kier runner at the halftime buzzer gave the Green & Gold a 37-33 edge at the break.

The Patriots extended their lead to 46-38 at the 15:48 mark of the second half and made it 54-45 on a lay-in from Kier with 12:46 to play. Penn cut the deficit back to three (54-51) at the 10:43 mark and two (56-54) with 9:14 remaining

After Penn got within one (58-57), Mason used a 6-2 spurt to go back up five (64-59) and led 68-56 with 3:45 left. But Penn scored a pair of buckets to retake the lead at 69-68.

Livingston II nailed a jumper to make it 70-69 and Greene hit one of two free throws to put the Patriots up 71-69 with 1:25 left.

But Penn would tie it at 71-71 and a 1-for-2 trip at the line by the Quakers’ AJ Brodeur made it 72-71 Penn with 20 seconds to go.

Kier missed a jumper with nine seconds left, and Brodeur was fouled. He missed both free throws, but the Quakers grabbed the offensive rebound. Again Penn went 0-for-2 at the line and Mason had a chance with five seconds left. But an Otis Livingston II runner at the horn was no good and Penn took the victory.

Mason returns to action on Friday night (7 p.m.) against American for a Family Weekend showdown in Fairfax.