George Mason wins up-tempo affair vs. UMass, 86-81

george masonGeorge Mason picked up its first Atlantic 10 victory of the season Wednesday night with a high octane, 86-81 win over Massachusetts inside EagleBank Arena.

Mason (11-4, 1-1) trailed 31-18 early, surged back to lead 41-39 at the half and hung on in the second stanza to pick up the important league victory.

Through 15 games, Mason already has matched its win total (11) from a year ago.

“This was a gritty and gratifying win by our guys,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “UMass played very well and our transition defense was not good to begin the game. But then I thought we scratched and clawed in the last part of the first half. I was impressed by our comeback during that time, but when [UMass] went back in front in the second half, to keep our composure and come back again was key. We weren’t really in sync, but energy plays in that second half helped us at the end of the game.”

Four Patriots posted at least 16 points in the contest, led by senior Marquise Moore, who poured in 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting while adding nine rebounds and a game-high five assists.

Sophomore Otis Livingston II tallied 18 points, three steals and two assists, while redshirt-senior Jalen Jenkins chipped in 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Sophomore Jaire Grayer added one of the best games of his season, tallying 16 points (6-11 FG) to go along with eight rebounds.

In his first career start, freshman Ian Boyd registered seven points and grabbed four rebounds in a career-high 29 minutes of work.

After posted a 53.1 percent mark from the floor in the opening stanza, Mason shot just 36.1 percent in the second half. But the Patriots made 5-of-11 (.455) 3-point attempts in the period while limiting Massachusetts (10-5, 0-2) to 23.1 percent (3-13) from beyond the arc. Mason also was +3 (26-23) on the glass in the second half. The Patriots committed just eight turnovers while forcing the Minutemen into 14 miscues.

The Minutemen came out of the gates red hot, hitting 13 of their first 17 shots and five of their first seven 3-point attempts to build a 31-18 lead at the 9:30 mark of the opening half.

The run did not rattle the Patriots, who heated up and then some. Mason hit 14 of its last 20 shots of the half and utilized a 21-4 run down the stretch to take a 41-39 advantage into the break. The surge included seven points from Moore and five from Livingston.

UMass surged back in front by four (47-43) in the second half and led by three (59-56) with under 11 minutes to play.

But from there, the Patriots put together an important run. A Jaire Grayer 3-pointer put Mason back in front by two (61-59). Then, with the Patriots ahead 63-61, Grayer and Livingston hit back-to-back triples to give Mason its largest lead of the game (69-61) with 5:54 to go.

The run was crucial, as a quick 10-0 spurt over the next two minutes put the Minutemen back in front (70-69) with 3:57 left.

From there, a huge 3-point play from Grayer pushed Mason ahead 72-70, and free throws from Jenkins and Moore extended the lead to seven (79-72) with 1:30 to go.

UMass got back to within two (83-81) with 27 seconds remaining, but Mason closed the game out from the line to grab the victory.

After making just 3-of-8 free throw attempts in the opening half, the Patriots converted 13-of-17 attempts (.765) in the game’s final five minutes.

The Patriots now hit the road for the first contest of a two-game trip. Mason will play at Saint Bonaventure on Saturday (January 7) at 5 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network. The Patriots wrap up the trip with a contest at Saint Joseph’s next Wednesday (Jan. 10).