WILMINGTON, North Carolina - Junior guard Chris Dixon went 12-of-16 from the floor and made all four of his free throws for a career-high 30 points to power UNCW past George Mason, 82-74, early Saturday in Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball action at Trask Coliseum.
The Seahawks stopped a four-game slide and improved to 6-10 overall and 1-3 in the CAA with their first conference win of the season. Buzz Peterson's club also snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Patriots and moved to 6-1 at home this year.
The Patriots now stand 9-7 and 2-2 after having their two-game winning streak broken with their first loss in Wilmington in the last five appearances.
"This is huge for us," said a smiling Peterson. "This will give us some confidence. Our guys didn't give up and believed in themselves. I thought Chris Dixon was unbelievable...he made the big plays when we needed it."
Dixon led all scorers in the contest and topped his career-high of 20 points set on Dec. 8 at Georgia Tech. It was the first time a Seahawk reached the 30-point plateau since Adam Smith poured in 32 points at Wake Forest last season.
Reserve guard Tyree Graham chipped in 15 points off the bench for UNCW and senior forward Keith Rendleman added a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Seahawks. It was Rendleman's eighth career double-double and the 30th of his storied career.
Junior guard Sherrod Wright paced GMU with 25 points and grabbed six rebounds. Freshman guard Patrick Holloway was the only other player in double figures for the Patriots with 11 points.
In the 71st meeting between the two clubs and the only one this season, UNCW inched out to a 36-34 lead at intermission, withstood an early second-half surge by GMU and used some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch to avoid an 0-4 start to league play.
The Seahawks trailed, 50-41, with 14 minutes remaining when Graham and Dixon triggered a 9-0 spurt to bring the game even. Graham started the outburst with a triple in the right corner and Dixon's jumper near the free throw line knotted the score with 12:10 on the clock.
The two teams traded buckets and the Patriots still led, 64-59, at 9:04 when Wright canned a pair of free throws. But reserve forward Shane Reybold sank a pair of free throws and Dixon scored two more buckets to give the Seahawks a 65-64 edge at 6:22. The push was part of a 10-1 run that increased the advantage to 69-65 and gave the Seahawks some breathing room.
GMU closed the gap to one possession, 75-72, on a dunk by Johnny Williams with 2:13 left, but UNCW scored 10 of the final 12 points to avenge a 75-69 loss last February to GMU in Wilmington. The Seahawks finished the game connecting on 24-of-31 at the charity stripe and drained 18-of-21 attempts in the second half to close out the win.
UNCW led, 36-34, at the break, but the Patriots came out inspired in the final period, scoring the first nine points of the half while the Seahawks were missing their first six field goal attempts. Wright scored on a reverse layup to tie the score he made another layup with a free throw to give GMU a 39-36 lead at 19:37, GMU's first lead of the game since the 16:02 mark of the first half.
The GMU lead ballooned to 43-36 before Dixon's layup broke the ice for the Seahawks at 16:17, a drought of 3:34 to open the period. The bucket brought the Seahawks within seven points, 45-38.
The Patriots stretched the margin back to 50-41 on a three-point play by Paris Bennett at the 14-minute mark, setting up UNCW's strong finish.
GMU scored the first five points of the contest and grabbed an 8-4 advantage at the first media timeout when Williams sank the second of two free throws near the 16-minute mark. UNCW used a 6-0 mini-run to take its first lead of the game, 10-8 when Dixon scored on a putback at 13:52.
After the Patriots chopped the deficit to one point, the Seahawks scored 10 of the next 11 points and Luke Hager's follow-up jam at 11:31 drew a timeout from GMU's Paul Hewitt and staked the Seahawks to a 21-12 cushion.
GMU fought back to narrow the score to 27-25 on Marko Gujanici's conventional three-point play at 5:44 before UNCW took a 36-34 lead into halftime after shooting just 37.1 percent from the floor and with leading scorer, Keith Rendleman collecting just three points without a field goal.
The Seahawks wrap up a two-game homestand Wednesday when Old Dominion visits the Port City for a 7 p.m. tip-off. The Patriots return to Fairfax to play host to James Madison on Wednesday in the first of two straight home games at the Patriot Center.
GAME NOTES: GMU leads the all-time series by a 40-31 margin....UNCW stands 20-11 vs. GMU at Trask Coliseum...Sophomore center Erik Copes (4.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg) did not play in the contest due to an injury...The Seahawks used the same starting lineup for the third straight outing...GMU skipper Paul Hewitt is 2-1 against the Seahawks since taking over the Mason program last season...Graham returned to the floor for the first time in three games and drained his first two triples...Dixon had 11 points and Wright scored 10 to lead their teams in the opening period....UNCW had 14 turnovers in the game and only six in the second period...Luke Hager chipped in a career-high seven points and seven rebounds...Each team had six three-point field goals...UNCW had 26 second-chance points in the win...Dixon played 32 minutes without a turnover at the point guard position for UNCW.