With March Madness fast approaching, the George Mason University men's basketball team gave fourth-ranked Dayton everything the Flyers could handle in a 62-55 setback for the Patriots Tuesday night inside EagleBank Arena.
After Mason led 36-34 six minutes into the second half, the Patriots and the Flyers were all tied up (41-41) with 9:47 to play and Mason trailed UD by just two (57-55) with 1:18 to go. But Dayton finished the game off by scoring the final five points of the contest.
Mason held Dayton – one of the top-35 3-point shooting teams in the nation (.369) – to just 18.8 percent (3-16) for the game and also held the Flyers' No. 1 ranked shooting offense under their overall season average (.500 Tuesday vs. .529 on the year).
The Patriots also limited one of the nation's top offenses to one shot on nearly every possession – a key element of being able to compete for a full game with the No. 4 Flyers. Mason allowed just five offensive rebounds and one second chance point for Dayton over the full 40 minutes.
"I told our guys that I'm very proud of our effort," head coach Dave Paulsen said. "We really played hard and played tough. We had the No. 4 team in the country on the ropes. But no one should be surprised about that – that's what this group is capable of. Our guys really competed and had a focus level and connectedness defensively. We had that two weeks ago at VCU – the next step for this team is being able to do that consistently."
Redshirt-junior AJ Wilson put together an outstanding all-around performance, tallying 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting while chipping in five rebounds in 32 minutes. It marked Wilson's second-straight excellent effort after being hampered by an ankle injury for a couple games.
Sophomore Jordan Miller added his first double-double of the season (13 points, 10 rebounds) while junior Javon Greene tallied eight points and six rebounds despite playing just 31 minutes due to foul trouble.
Mason and Dayton played to a 7-7 tie, before the Flyers built a 22-14 advantage at the 7:45 mark of the first half. The Patriots cut it to four (26-22) on a Hartwell II jumper and trailed by just five (30-25) at the break.
A Wilson lay-in and 3-point play from Greene fueled a 5-0 Mason start to the second half to tie the score (30-30). A lay-in from Miller put Mason up two (36-34) at the 13:49 mark and after UD went back up, Mason again tied it at 41-41 with 9:47 to go.
At that point, UD used an 8-0 spurt to go up 49-41 and the Flyers led 55-48 with 4:25 left. Mason cut it to four (57-53) on a Miller lay-in with 1:50 let and a fast break conversion from Xavier Johnson with 1:18 to go cut the lead to two (57-55) and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Mason played great half court defense on the next Flyer possession, but UD's Ibi Watson converted a tough lay-in as the shot clock wound down and the Patriots could not score on the other end. Dayton made the free throws they needed to from there to hold on to the victory.
The Patriots now hit the road for a Saturday contest at Duquesne. The 7 p.m. contest will be played at Robert Morris University and air on ESPN+.