George Mason outlasts Navy 68-55 in season-opening win

George MasonGeorge Mason fired on all cylinders in overtime Tuesday night to leave EagleBank Arena with a 68-55 victory over Navy.

Before a crowd of 5620, the Patriots hunkered down with an outstanding defensive effort in their season opener, but struggled from the floor in regulation, making just 21-of-53 attempts (.396). But in the overtime session, Mason exploded from the field, making 4-of-7 3-point attempts and holding a +13 edge (16-3) in the extra session.

The Patriots held Navy to 36.2 percent from the floor (21-58) and a 4-of-20 night from 3-point range (.200). The Midshipmen were just 1-of-6 (.167) in the overtime period.

“We have a lot to work on but I’m proud of the resilience and toughness these guys showed,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “I thought we defended and fought hard, but we need to become an elite rebounding team and we need to make free throws. I thought our guys handled the pressure of the game well – this is a teachable win.”

Without the services of preseason All-A-10 guard Justin Kier – who is out recovering from a stress fracture – Mason had players step up across the roster to lift the Patriots in the opener.

Redshirt-junior AJ Wilson – who Coach Paulsen has lauded for his efforts in summer and fall practice – broke out with a stellar effort. He led Mason with his third career double-double, notching 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks to go along with a career-best two assists in 32 minutes on the floor.

Freshman point guard Xavier Johnson impressed on both ends of the floor, matching Wilson with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He also tallied four assists, three rebounds and two steals in his 29:58 on the floor. Johnson served as a defensive catalyst all night long and made hustle plays when the Patriots needed them. Johnson’s 15 points are the most by a Patriot freshman in a debut in more than 15 seasons.

Sophomore Jamal Hartwell II – the other half of Mason’s two-headed point guard attack – notched 12 points and made four 3-pointers, including a critical equalizing bucket with the Patriots trailing 52-49 with less than a minute to play.

In addition, junior Javon Greene made a pair of 3-pointers in the overtime session and finished with 11 points while tallying game highs in assists (5) and steals (3).

Navy held a 9-6 advantage seven minutes into the game, before Mason pushed ahead by four (16-12) on a 3-pointer from Hartwell II with 7:50 to play in the opening half. From there, a scoring drought of more than five minutes allowed the Midshipmen to push back in front by four (20-16) with 2:03 left in the stanza. The Middies took a 22-20 lead into the break.

The score was tied 24-24 just a minute into the second half, before Mason pushed forward with an electric 13-0 run to go up 37-24 at the 14:29 mark. That included a dunk from Wilson, 3-pointer from Hartwell II and two buckets from Jordan Miller.

Navy stayed in the game in spite of the run and began to climb back midway through the stanza. With Mason up 41-32, the Midshipmen used a 12-0 spurt to go up 44-41. Navy then led 48-45 and 52-49, before Hartwell II hit the huge 3-pointer with 50 seconds left to tie the score. Mason then got a huge stop on the defensive end but could not convert in the final 20 seconds on offense, sending the game into overtime.

From there, back-to-back 3-pointers from Hartwell II and Greene opened overtime and gave Mason a 58-52 edge. The Patriots went up 63-55 with 1:13 to go and another triple from Greene made it 66-55 and effectively iced the game with 34 seconds left.

The Patriots are back in EagleBank Arena on Friday night when Mason hosts Longwood at 7 p.m.


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