Kier’s career night for naught as George Mason falls to Vermont

george masonGeorge Mason junior guard Justin Kier poured in a career-best 32 points vs. Vermont Monday but it was not enough, as the visiting Catamounts held on for a 72-67 victory over the Patriots in EagleBank Arena.

Mason trailed by just five (27-22) at the break, but Vermont extended the lead to as many as 14 (53-39) midway through the second half. The Patriots stormed back and had a chance to get within four with two minutes to go. Mason was within three (70-67) with 15 seconds left but could not get a late steal, as Vermont hit its free throws to clinch the victory.

“I want to start by giving credit to Vermont,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “That’s a veteran team, a disciplined team and they’re well coached. They made big plays when they needed to make them. I’m really disappointed in our defensive toughness. We played well defensively in the first half, but came out and let them hit seven of their first nine shots. Defensive energy and toughness need to be a constant for our team.”

Kier reached his career-high 32-point showing on the strength of an efficient 12-of-15 shooting performance from the floor. The Grottoes, Va., product also made 6-of-6 free throw attempts, tied his career high with four steals and grabbed four rebounds in 32 minutes of work. Kier has scored at least 14 points in each of the past three games.

Kier’s effort was the first 30+ point performance by a Patriot since Otis Livingston II dropped 30 vs. St. Bonaventure in January 2018.

Fellow junior Ian Boyd added 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting while sophomore Greg Calixte chipped in six points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.

To Paulsen’s point, Mason’s defense was solid in the opening stanza. The Patriots limited the Catamounts to just 33.3 percent (11-33), which helped Mason remain in the game despite making just 35.8 percent of their attempts (.348). But Vermont shot a blazing 65.2 percent (15-23) in the second half to pull away.

The Catamounts turned 16 turnovers into a 23-16 edge in points off turnovers for the game. Vermont also grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and was +4 (10-6) in second chance points. Mason won the interior scoring battle (44-38).

The Patriots limited the Catamounts to a 4-of-14 start from the floor, but Mason could muster just 1-of-7 and four turnovers to start. The result was an early 9-2 lead for Vermont. Four-straight points from Justin Kier helped Mason close it to 9-6, but back-to-back triples from the visitors extended the Catamount edge to nine (15-6) at the 12:37 mark of the first half.

The Patriots trimmed the lead to five at 22-17 and trailed by that margin at the break (27-22).

Mason cut the Vermont edge to four at 32-28 on free throws from Livingston II, but the Catamounts ripped off an 8-0 spurt from there to build a 12-point edge (42-30) at the 14:18 mark of the second half. Vermont took their largest lead (53-39) with less than eight minutes to go, but the Patriots quickly cut it back to nine (53-44) after five-straight points from Kier.

With Vermont ahead 65-54 with 2:13 to play, Mason began to mount a comeback. Free throws from Kier and a bucket from Boyd cut it to seven (65-58) at the 1:48 mark, and Mason had a chance to trim it to four with 1:10 to go. But Livingston II’s 3-pointer rimmed out and Vermont scored on the other end. Kier hit another three to make it 67-61 with 54 seconds remaining and Mason was within four (69-65) with 15 seconds to go. A Kier lay-in made it 70-67, but Mason could not get a steal with seven seconds left and Vermont held on for the victory.

Mason remains at home for an old CAA rivalry battle with James Madison. Tip-off on Friday is at 7 p.m. vs. the Dukes. The game will be televised regionally on MASN.

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