George Mason falls to Saint Joseph’s in Atlantic 10 quarterfinals

george masonA season of exhilarating highs and consistent improvement for the George Mason University men’s basketball team came to a close on Friday afternoon, with the No. 5 seed Patriots falling to No. 4 Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals.

Inside Capital One Arena, Mason trailed by just one at the half (26-25), but the Patriots could simply not hit shots, despite executing on offense and getting a number of good looks. The Green & Gold made 2-of-25 (.080) 3-point attempts and shot just 29.5 percent, both season lows for the Patriots. The Hawks won the contest, 68-49.

Looking back on the year, Mason – picked to finish 10th in the A-10 preseason poll – placed fifth while tying a program record with nine A-10 victories. Mason also tied a program-best with four A-10 road wins and advanced to the quarterfinals of the league tournament for the second-straight year. The Patriots started conference play at 3-6, but Mason won seven of its final 10 games of the year.

After averaging 10.3 wins from 2013-14 to 2015-16, the Patriots have now averaged 18.0 victories over the past two campaigns (2016-17, 2017-18).

“This team has improved as much, if not more, than any team I’ve ever coached in 24 years,” head cosch Dave Paulsen said. “That’s a real tribute to them. Our work ethic in practice has been great. Even in the rough patches early in the season, it was fun going to practice every day. They’re a close knit group and they allowed me to coach them hard. They represent George Mason well on and off the court, in the community and the classroom. We weren’t seeing the results early on, but in the second half of conference play, we did.”

Junior Jaire Grayer posted his ninth double-double of the season (12 points, 13 rebounds) to pace the Patriots Friday, while freshman Goanar Mar chipped in 10 points. Sophomore Justin Kier tallied eight points, five rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.

The Patriot defense played well all game, limiting the Hawks to 40 percent shooting. The Patriots also held a 28-26 lead in points in the paint for the contest.

Mason took an early 6-3 lead, but the Hawks took advantage of a 1-of-12 stretch by the Patriots to pull ahead 12-8. Mason then forced an 0-for-7 SJU drought to move back in front 19-17 with 5:38 to play in the stanza. The Patriots extended the edge to four (23-19) on free throws by Livingston II, but the Hawks scored seven of the final nine points of the period to take a 26-25 lead into the break.

SJU extended its lead to 35-29 early in the second half and used a 12-3 run to go up 13 (47-34) at the 11:25 mark. The Hawks extended the edge to 16 (52-36), but from there Mason used a 7-0 spurt to get back within nine (52-43) with four minutes to play in the game.

But that’s as close as the Patriots would get for the remainder of the game.

Looking ahead to 2018-19, Mason will return its entire roster, as the Patriots graduate no players. In addition, the Green & Gold welcome University of Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter, who has two seasons of eligibility, as well as freshmen Jordan Miller (Purcellville, Va.) and Jason Douglas-Stanley (Mount Vernon, N.Y.).

The Patriots also have two open scholarships to use for potential spring signings.

“Next year, we’ll go from being young, small and lacking depth, to being older, with two seniors. We’ll have a four-year transfer player and we’ll have more experience, size and competition in practice,” Paulsen said. “Nothing’s guaranteed, but I feel comfortable that we’ll have the roster where I want to have it, in terms of guys who buy into our culture that have the size and athleticism to compete at a high level in the Atlantic 10.”

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