Joe Harris led Virginia with 19 points and 8 boards.
Friday’s men’s basketball meeting between George Mason and Virginia settled into a see-saw season-opening battle with 10 ties and 16 lead changes, but the Patriots came through with some clutch shooting in the final 1:30 to win 63-59. It marked Mason’s first ever victory in eight tries against UVa, which entered the game on a 14-game winning streak in season openers.
In such a closely contested game, the outcome often can be determined by one big play down the stretch and the Patriots came through with that moment when Bryon Allen hit a tough 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining. The shot clock dwindled into single digits when Allen used a pull-back dribble with step-back footwork on the right wing and launched the shot attempt over the outstretched hand of Virginia’s Justin Anderson . The ball swished through and when Joe Harris missed a tying 3-point attempt on the next possession, George Mason made 3 of its final 4 free throws to pull out the win.
“I didn’t have a good look at all, I just tried to put it up there,” Allen told The Associated Press. “Honestly, I’m just trying to get it up. It felt good, and once it got halfway there, I knew it was going in.”
Neither team could seem to take full control of the throttle during the game. The Patriots, who lost just one game at home last season, consistently applied fullcourt pressure to try to raise the tempo and rhythm of the game. That strategy worked at times as the hosts came up with 5 steals as part of Virginia’s 12 turnovers; two of those press break mistakes came in a 40-second span after the Hoos pulled ahead 50-46 near the 8-minute media timeout. On the other hand, UVa’s methodical screening game and patient Pack-Line defense also slowed down Mason at times. The Patriots took just 44 shots, but converted at a 54.5% clip to get the W.
Allen did much of the damage for the hosts 13 points and 5 assists. Including the crucial 3-pointer late, he made 4 of 7 shots (2-2 triples) and 3 of 4 free throws in the game. Fellow guard Sherrod Wright led George Mason with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while Johnny Williams and Anali Okoloji added 11 and 8 points respectively.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, got a big outing from Harris. The junior posted a game-high 19 points to go with 8 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes; he made 6 of 15 shots, including 4 of 7 triples. Fellow junior Akil Mitchell scored a career-high 11 points and added 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block as well. Sophomore Darion Atkins added 7 points and 4 boards.
In addition to those players, Virginia started three freshmen in a season opener for what UVa athletic media relations believes is the first time in school history. That’s because senior guard Jontel Evans is out recovering from preseason surgery, while sophomore wing Malcolm Brogdon continues to rehab from an offseason operation.
Mike Tobey , who started in the post, put up 5 points and 1 rebound in 18 minutes. Taylor Barnette, who started at guard, had 5 points in 27 minutes. Anderson, another starter at guard, had 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal in 27 minutes. Evan Nolte , a fourth freshman that plays forward, added 6 points (2-4 triples), 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes.
As should be expected, there were quite a few up-and-down moments for the youngsters. Tobey got bumped around and looked rushed offensively at times, but he hit a pick-and-pop 3-pointer as one bright spot. Barnette seemed poised against pressure at times, but he hit just 1 of 5 attempts from beyond the arc. Anderson played good on-ball defense and stuffed the stat sheet, but he too struggled with his shooting (1-5 overall, 0-3 triples, 2-5 free throws). Nolte knocked down a couple of open shots and had one nice-looking wrap-around assist, but got into foul trouble.
The quartet also had defensive breakdowns whether that came in the form of a weak-side cut for an easy bucket or late help on straight-line drives like Allen’s lay-up for Mason just after a timeout near the 3:00 mark in the second half.
“To come into this setting, the first experience for these guys, it was a great atmosphere. You try to grow from it,” UVa coach Tony Bennett told The Associated Press.