UMass men’s basketball runs out of gas in road loss at George Mason

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 02-01-2023 9:46 PM

The road remained a hostile place for the UMass men’s basketball team in Atlantic 10 play.

George Mason took down the Minutemen 70-59 in Fairfax, Va., on Wednesday. It dropped UMass (13-9, 4-6 A-10) to 0-5 away from the Mullins Center in league play and snapped a two-game winning streak. 

“Really proud of the guys. Our preparation was tremendous. We played really hard for the most part. A couple guys needed to help us with their discipline and their effort. We got a little tired in the second half,” UMass coach Frank Martin said. “Sometimes you lose because the other team played better. We just couldn’t score enough to keep up in that game.”

T.J. Weeks Jr. led UMass with 18 points, his second double-digit outing of the season. He hit 3-of-11 3-pointers and added five rebounds and two assists.

Wildens Leveque (three steals) and Keon Thompson, a freshman making his first career start, also reached double figures with 10 points each for the Minutemen.

UMass forward Dyondre Dominguez grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench to go along with his six points.

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UMass was down its two leading scorers Noah Fernandes (ankle) and Matt Cross (illness) and lost freshman guard RJ Luis, who had scored at least 20 points in the past two games, just 20 seconds into the second half after he collided with a teammate and injured his face. His nose gushed blood all over the bench and kept him out the rest of the game.

Ginika Ojiako banked in a turnaround jumper with 3:32 remaining that gave Mason its first double-digit lead, 62-51. It ballooned as high as 13, as the Patriots pulled away over the final stretch.

“If you’re going to play uphill, you’ve got to make shots, and we didn’t make any down the stretch,” Martin said.

George Mason (13-10, 5-5) shot 54 percent in the second half and hit its last eight field goals.

UMass won the rebounding battle 38-35 and pulled down 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second chance points.

“(Wednesday) it wasn’t a mindset thing. It wasn’t an emotional thing. We played hard. We played connected,” Martin said. “Defensively we were good except for certain windows. And in those windows it was the same group of people that let us down.”

The Minutemen hit just 2-of-15 3s in the second half and only attempted four free throws. George Mason made 12-of-16 from the stripe after halftime, as UMass committed 14 fouls compared to nine for the Patriots.

Because of that, the Minutemen also battled foul trouble throughout the second half. Isaac Kante and Dominguez both picked up four, while Leveque and Rahsool Diggins had three each. Four Minutemen had two fouls at halftime.

Thompson dropped in a step back jumper with 8:13 remaining that put UMass ahead 44-43 after a 9-0 run.

“We just played a real good team on the road. As a freshman he answered the bell,” Martin said. “He’s grown up so much as a player from Day 1 to where we are right now.”

It was the Minutemen’s first advantage since late in the first half. They weathered an 18-2 run and erased a nine-point lead in the second half.

UMass held George Mason without a point for 6:42.

George Mason’s Josh Oduro (15 points, nine rebounds) rebounded a Ronald Polite III missed free throw (he made the first to tie the game at 44) and restored the Patriots lead with a layup of the glass with 7:59 remaining.

That started an 8-0 Mason run. Freshman Justyn Fernandez, who had a career-high 18 points, scored five of those points with a step through reverse layup and a 3-pointer that made it 51-44 with 6:34 to go.

George Mason stretched its lead back out to nine with two Fernandez free throws, 57-48, with 4:44 remaining.

UMass didn’t shoot a free throw in the second half until Weeks was fouled attempting a 3 coming off two screens. He made all three to pull the Minutemen within six, 57-51.

UMass played catchup for most of the second half after holding a lead for the majority of the first. Weeks pushed UMass’ lead to its largest in the first half at eight with a meandering drive through a lack of George Mason defenders. He pump faked his man at the 3-point line then bounded across the open floor for a layup with three minutes to halftime.

The Patriots then scored the next 12 points, and Josh Oduro gave Mason a 29-28 lead with a lofted layup through traffic with 1:54 to halftime. Luis was whistled for two charges during the stretch.

George Mason extended the run to 18-2 to take a nine-point lead after Victor Bailey splashed back to back 3s in the first three minutes of the second half to push the Patriots to 39-30, their largest advantage, with 17:18 left.

Weeks beat a dwindling shot clock with a 3-pointer with 15:38 left after freshman Tafara Gapare wrapped a midair pass around two defenders at the rim. It shaved Mason’s lead to just four 39-35 after it boosted to nine.

Diggins rattled in a wide-open 3 to bring UMass within a possession for the first time since the opening of the half, cutting UMass to 43-40 with 10:42 left. The Leveque hammered home a one-handed dunk to cut the lead to one with 9:47 left.

UMass will return home against Davidson at 12:30 p.m. Saturday (USA).

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>