FAIRFAX, Virginia - George Mason opened the second half with a 9-0 run to gain some breathing room and held on for a 67-61 victory over UNCW in a Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball game Monday night at the Patriot Center.
The Patriots won for the 10th time in 11 home games to improve to 16-5 overall and 8-1 in the CAA, maintaining a one-game lead in the conference standings. The Seahawks now stand 8-11 in all games and 4-5 in the CAA.
"It was a close game and we had our chances," said second-year UNCW coach Buzz Peterson. "We missed so many wide open shots. We had one of our best defensive efforts in the first half, but got a little riled early in the second half before we got the game back to where we needed it to be."
Senior forward Ryan Pearson, a preseason First-Team All-CAA pick, led the Patriots and first-year skipper Paul Hewitt with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard Bryon Allen added 17 points and senior center Mike Morrison had 10 rebounds for GMU, which shot 48.4 percent in the second half after struggling in the early going.
Freshman guard KK Simmons paced the Seahawks with 18 points and backcourt mate Adam Smith contributed 15 markers. Junior forward Keith Rendleman was limited to seven points and eight boards.
In the first of two meetings in 19 days between the two rivals, GMU trailed most of the first half before inching out to a one-point edge at intermission and using a big surge to open the second period for their fourth straight win.
Pearson scored six of GMU's first nine points after intermission as the Patriots created some separation after halftime. A dunk by Pearson with 18:53 gave the Patriots a 32-22 margin. The lead increased to 40-28 on a floater in the lane by Aaron Cornelius with just under 16 minutes remaining.
GMU still led, 44-36, when UNCW made a move behind Smith. The rookie from Jonesboro, Ga., scored seven points in a 9-3 spurt and he sank a pair of free throws with 8:53 left to help the Seahawks creep to 44-43.
But Pearson scored on the next two possessions and Allen keyed a 9-2 spurt that helped the Patriots push the margin back to 60-49 with just four minutes remaining. UNCW could get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
Both teams got off to a rocky start, struggling from the field and combining for 17 turnovers in the first period. GMU scored the final six points of the opening period to forge ahead, 23-22, at intermission.
UNCW wound up hitting just 25.7 percent on 9-for-35 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, while GMU wasn't much better, making just 37.0 percent on 10-for-27. The Patriots also missed all six of their three-point field goal attempts.
Simmons led all scorers with 10 points in the first half to keep the Seahawks close. He drained the first of two triples at the 12:14 mark to give UNCW a 13-8 lead and then added another trey with 5:09 left in the first half to give UNCW its largest lead of the game, 20-13.
However, Pearson came alive in the final four minutes of the half to get Mason going. With his team trailing, 20-13, the senior from Far Rockaway, N.Y., scored on a baby hook and added a transition dunk to bring the Patriots within, 20-17. After Aaron Cornelius converted both ends of a bonus situation, Pearson slammed home another dunk following a Seahawk turnover in the backcourt and the Patriots enjoyed a one-point advantage at the break.
The Seahawks return home Wednesday to entertain Old Dominion in a 7 p.m. tip-off at Trask Coliseum. The Patriots travel to Hofstra Wednesday to battle the Pride at 7 p.m. in Hempstead, N.Y.
GAME NOTES: UNCW now stands 30-39 against George Mason through the years...The Seahawks are 8-19 at the Patriot Center...The Patriots have won eight straight against the Seahawks...Buzz Peterson is still looking for his first win against GMU...Both clubs had 13 turnovers...Mason went only 1-for-16 from the three-point arc...UNCW was 9-for-25 from deep...GMU won the battle of the boards with 44 rebounds...Both teams had 11 assists...Tanner Milson paced the Seahawks with four assists...Attendance was 4,147.