George Mason holds off UVa, 63-59

Junior Bryon Allen drained a 3-pointer with a minute left to break a 57-all deadlock then sank a pair of free throws in the waning seconds, and the George Mason men’s basketball team held on to defeat the University of Virginia, 63-59, in both teams’ season opener before a sold-out Patriot Center crowd Friday night.

Mason (1-0) knocked off its in-state rival for the first time in series history, snapping a streak of seven Virginia (0-1) victories. With 13 points, Allen was one of three Patriots in double-figure scoring, as classmate Sherrod Wright led the team with 15 points while redshirt junior Johnny Williams added 11 in his return to action following a medical redshirt season.

Other notable performances for the Patriots included eight points and four rebounds for redshirt sophomore Anali Okoloji, who began his Mason career after transferring from Seton Hall, and a seven-rebound, six-point, three-assist night from freshman Marko Gujanicic. Williams, meanwhile, had game highs of three steals and two blocks, playing all but three minutes.

UVA was led by 19 points, including four 3-pointers, and eight rebounds from Joe Harris. The Cavaliers won the rebounding battle, 32-to-26, but were out-shot from the field by a 54.5-to-40.4 percent margin by the Patriots, who committed just 10 turnovers compared to 12 for Virginia.

Wright and Allen dazzled the capacity crowd from the opening tap, as the Patriots jumped out to a 5-0 lead behind Wright’s 3-pointer and an Allen Layup inside the first 60 seconds of play. The Patriots built a lead as large as eight at 15-7, thanks to a 10-2 run that spanned nearly three minutes.

The Cavaliers would fight their way back, using a 9-0 run of their own to take a 16-15 lead at the 10:08 mark behind a jumper from Darion Atkins. It remained a one-possession game for the remainder of the first half, with six total lead changes. The final one came as the horn sounded, as Gujanicic drained a 3-pointer from NBA range to give the Patriots a 28-25 lead at halftime.

For the first 10-plus minutes of the second half, the margin remained again within one score, until a 6-2 run by Virginia made it 50-46 Cavaliers with eight minutes left in the game. Okoloji and Williams answered with baskets to tie it at 50 with six minutes left. 90 seconds later, UVA took what would be its final lead as a pair of free throws by Harris made it 55-51 at the 4:29 mark. Buckets by Williams and Wright tied the score at 55 with 3:11 to go, and Allen put Mason on top with his layup at the 2:48 mark.

Akil Mitchell, though, hit a pair of free throws with 1:34 remaining to knot the score at 57-all. 32 seconds later, Allen’s trey from the right side found the bottom of the net as the crowd erupted, and after a Williams free throw made it a four-point game with 10 seconds left. Taylor Barnette drove the length of the court and laid it in with four seconds showing on the clock, but Allen was fouled on the inbound and hit both of his free throws to ice the victory.

The Patriots improved to 28-19 in season openers and won its tenth straight lid-lifter, improving upon an already school-record streak. It was also just the fourth win for Mason over an Atlantic Coast Conference school, while the 9,840 fans tied a program record hit seven times prior. It was the largest crowd at a Mason home opener in program history.

Mason will next hit the road for its next four games, beginning Tuesday night with a trip to Bucknell. Tip off from Sojka Pavilion is set for 7 p.m.

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