No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball slow starts finally came back to bite it.
For the third straight game, the Terps trailed heading into halftime, this time against the George Mason Patriots. The Patriots led 32-31 after the first 20 minutes, then it went on a huge run early in the second half.
George Mason scored seven of the first 10 points of the half, then it ripped Maryland’s defense apart with a 9-0 run to put it up for good. Maryland never recovered from trailing at the break and backed by its concession of nine straight points in the second half, George Mason cliched the upset win in College Park.
Maryland had an aggressive late push, but eventually suffered its first loss of the season with a 71-66 final score in the Patriots’ favor in College Park on Wednesday evening.
“Defensively they looked great... they wouldn’t let us get in the paint... and then they made big time shots and sometimes it’s just not your night,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of George Mason. “They’re good, you know, tried to explain that to people that we’re playing a really good team.”
Maryland now falls to 3-1 on the season, while George Mason remains undefeated with a 4-0 record. The win is the first for George Mason’s program against Maryland, as the Terps now hold the 9-1 all-time record.
“I feel like we need to get back. We didn’t really have a good practice yesterday. These couple weeks, kinda slacking but I feel like we’ll come back from this. This is just one of the challenges we’re going to face during the season,” freshman forward Julian Reese said.
In the battle of the 3-0 teams in the Xfinity Center, the three-point shooting that plagued the Terps in their opening three games seemed to be remedied in the early goings.
First senior guard Eric Ayala knocked down a three, then forward Donta Scott drilled a three to give Maryland a lead in the opening minutes of the first half. Maryland started with 4-for-8 shooting from the field propelled it to a 10-3 lead over the Patriots just under five minutes in.
The Terps’ success on the offensive end was infectious and the defense followed suit, collecting three Patriots’ turnovers to help secure an early advantage on the scoreboard.
George Mason used a few timely buckets to answer Maryland’s quick run and it registered back-to-back buckets just before the under-12 timeout to bring Maryland’s lead back to 16-12. The game remained neck-and-neck midway through the opening half, similar to Maryland’s first three games.
George Mason’s offense, which averaged around 83 points per game entering Wednesday night, started catching fire against Maryland’s defense. The Patriots used a 10-0 run over the span of three minutes to take their biggest lead of the evening up to that point.
Coming out of a timeout with under eight minutes left in the half, Scott nailed his second three-pointer of the day to give Maryland life. Scott had his best start to a game this season, hitting his first three shot attempts to give him eight of the Terps’ 21 opening points.
Scott was fed the ball just a few plays later and connected on his third three of the day as he provided the entirety of the offensive production for Maryland. Despite Scott’s 11 points in 15 the first half from beyond the arc, George Mason maintained a one-point lead with under five minutes remaining in the opening half.
Maryland’s three-pointer party helped it regain the lead late in the half. Reese spotted up at the top of the key, a surprise move for the big man that attempted just one three prior, and successfully splashed it in for his first three-pointer of the year.
The Terps averaged just five threes per game over the course of their opening three wins, but at the 2:52 mark in the first half, they already had five makes.
A last-minute bucket from the red-hot Scott pushed his total to 13, though George Mason went into the break up 32-31. The one-point deficit at the half was a scenario that Maryland had been familiar with in its prior wins. Maryland was down at the half in the games with George Washington and Vermont, contests it ended up winning.
The Patriots came out firing in the opening moments of the second half with a three-pointer and it started out scoring seven of the first 10 points to take a 39-34 lead.
Maryland was chipping away at its deficit, but every time that Maryland offered an answer with a bucket, George Mason came right back the other way with a basket of its own. The back and forth action ensued, but a big three from D’Shawn Schwartz put the Patriots in the driver’s seat with a six-point advantage with 14:23 left in the game. Another layup soon after brought the Patriots’ advantage to 46-38 and the tension was building in the arena amongst the Maryland fans.
Maryland had plenty of trouble figuring out George Mason’s zone defense. There were times where Maryland got good ball movement and created a few decent shots, but the overall inefficiency from the field, combined with the Patriots’ sharpshooting, spelled disaster for the hosts.
Another bucket from the Patriots capped off their 9-0 run to give them a 10-point lead, their largest of the evening nearing the midway mark of the second half.
The Terps still had life in them, despite facing the reality of a potential upset in College Park. Maryland rallied just after George Mason’s big run as Ian Martinez and Xavier Green doled out back-to-back baskets, including a fancy reverse layup from Green, to cut the Patriots’ lead to five.
Scott once again put the comeback effort on his shoulders, putting in a layup with the foul, then making a free throw to shrink the lead. Two free throws from Reese a couple of plays later put Maryland in business, then the freshman had another make from the charity stripe to bring the score back with three with under five minutes to play.
The Patriots simply just wouldn't go away.
George Mason connected on a layup to create some distance on the scoreboard, then Schwartz stuck in his sixth-made three from the corner to give the Patriots a 64-56 lead with three minutes and two seconds left.
“They made a lot of shots, they definitely made a lot of shots,” Ayala said of George Mason’s sharpshooting. “They played like team ball, you know, finding the right guy.”
Ayala did his best to play the hero in the final minute of the game.
The senior sunk his first three to bring Maryland back within four, then he hit yet another monumental three-pointer to cut the Patriots’ lead to 67-66 with 57.3 seconds remaining.
“I was just trying to find a way to win,” Ayala said on his last two made threes. “I never felt like we was gonna to lose, until obviously we lost, but through the game I felt like we always had a chance, you know, just trying to help my team out as much as I can.”
However, George Mason went on to capture the win in the final moments after Ayala missed a last-ditch three-point effort, closing the Terps out 71-66 in College Park.
Three things to know
1. Donta Scott came alive for Maryland on Wednesday night. Scott, who had struggled in the opening three games of the season, was on fire in the first half. He hit his first five attempts from the floor, three of which were from long range. Scott had 13 points in the first half and his previous season-high of 13 was close to being shattered after the opening 20 minutes. The forward was a big factor the rest of the way, finishing with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting. His resurgence in the fourth game of the season is a sign of good things to come for Maryland.
2. Hakim Hart’s offense is still missing. The missing link from Maryland’s offense has been none other than Hart. The junior out of Philadelphia played at least 24 minutes in the opening three games, but he tallied just 12 points in those wins. Things weren’t much different for Hart during Wednesday night’s bout with George Mason. He failed to record a point in the first half and ended with two. He attempted just three shots all game. Hart will need to be a bigger factor on the offensive end moving forward.
3. Maryland’s top guards regressed after the win over Vermont. Ayala and Russell were standouts in the win over Vermont last week, with each guard collecting 22 points in the victory. However, that wasn’t the case for the backcourt duo in the meeting with the Patriots. Ayala shot 6-for-17 from the field, scoring 17 points, while Russell had his worst outing of the young season, registering a mere two points on 14.3% shooting. They weren’t nearly as effective as they were in the Vermont win and their inefficiency set Maryland back in this one.