UMass men’s basketball loses at home to George Mason for second straight loss

Fernandes was still sidelined in the concussion protocol

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Pedro Gray Soares, Collegian Staff

Facing a George Mason team coming off a strong win against St. Bonaventure it was anticipated to be a challenge for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, and it lived up to expectations when the Patriots defeated the Minutemen 72-62 at the Mullins Center on Sunday.

“It was another good [Atlantic 10] basketball game, a battle, and our guys competed, they executed the game plan,” George Mason coach Kim English said. “We had to adjust midway through because [UMass] was kind of getting us stretched out a little bit and started making some threes. We know they’re an incredible offensive team, it’s what they really excel at and we wanted to make this a defensive game as much as we could.”

George Mason (11-7, 4-1 A-10) not only succeeded at adjusting to changes, they also outshot the Minutemen (9-11, 2-6 A-10) in every aspect but the free throw line, and as UMass coach Matt McCall explained, out hustled the Minutemen as well.

Once again with no Noah Fernandes (concussion protocol), the game plan for the Minutemen was to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. On offense, attacking the basket was a focal point, but finishing at the rim continues to be a problem for UMass.

“You got to have a level of focus [on offense],” McCall said. “We got to get better; we got to improve. Layups is focus, man. You got to go up there aggressively.”

McCall also mentioned how important it is for his team to start playing in transition more. UMass only scored seven points in transition.

“We got to run more, we need to get more possessions, we got to put more pressure on the paint,” McCall said. “I think it starts there.”

Defensively, the priority for the Minutemen was to neutralize George Mason’s leading scorer Josh Oduro, and they was successful at that. Oduro averages almost 18 points per game but finished with just six on Sunday, as he got into foul trouble early in the game.

According to McCall, the game plan was to make Oduro think, and not just allow him to play one-on-one in the post. The goal was to not let him see the double team coming since he is a good enough passer to find the open man. On offense, going at him proved highly effective for UMass, as getting him into foul trouble forced other Patriots to get the job done.

However, George Mason showed that they are much more than a one-man army. Star guard D’Shawn Schwartz led the charge, showing out with 15 points in 6-for-11 shooting. Starting guard Davonte Gaines followed him with 14 points in only six shots to go along with eight rebounds.

Guard play from the Patriots wreaked havoc on the UMass defense. Not only did Schwartz and Gaines have a good day, DeVon Cooper and Xavier Johnson had themselves solid outings. Cooper stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals, and shooting 3-of-4 from deep. Johnson scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out nine assists. Each of them only had one turnover.

The scoring for UMass looked bleak until the last five minutes. Up to that point, no Minutemen had scored double-digit points. In the absence of Fernandes, Rich Kelly and Javohn Garcia led the team in points with 13 each, and Trent Buttrick (10) was the only other player in the double digits.

Kelly was three-for-five from deep, but struggled to run the offense as George Mason jammed him up whenever he crossed the half-court line for most of the first half. Garcia looked like the best Minutemen on the court at times. He grabbed six rebounds and put out five assists, both tallies leading the team. Garcia was also effective in getting to the free throw line, and tied for most free throws made in the game with six.

George Mason’s size, especially at the guard position, proved to be a problem for the Minutemen, who couldn’t handle the Patriots’ disciplined defense on one side and strong finishing and shooting on the other.

Holding a team that averages 77 points to just 62 isn’t a simple task, but George Mason pulled it off.

“When you focus in on defense, it aids your offense,” English said. “And it’s statistically accurate. Your offense is better after you get stops because the defense is in transition.”

Next, the Minutemen will travel to Kingston, Rhode Island for a matchup against the Rams on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.