My first game of the season took me to the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia, home of the George Mason Patriots. I wasn't planning on going to the game, in fact, I had planned to make my first game of the season this Sunday at Navy. But, a friend invited me at the last minute, and I headed out to Fairfax to meet him. In their season opener, the Patriots took on the Rhode Island Rams. It was the beginning of a new era for the Patriots, as it was their first game under their new coach Paul Hewitt, who replaced long-time coach Jim Larranaga, who left to become head coach at the University of Miami. Having grown up in Ohio as a Kent State fan, I am very used to changing coaches. Since 2000, when I first started following Kent State, the school has gone through five different coaches, most of which left to take a payday at a larger university. Every time a new coach takes over, there is always the worry that he won't have the same success as his predecessor. As I walked into the Patriot Center for the first time, I immediately noticed the 2006 Final Four Banner, a reminder of the past. The pep band looked and sounded great (and bonus points to them for having two violins and a cello, instruments I've never seen in a pep band before). The student section was filled, and before the tip, a chant of "Pa-ul Hewitt" started. The game however, did not start as Hewitt and company would have liked. Both teams started off slowly, and the Rams got off to an early 11-6 lead, but after calling thier first timeout, the Patriots got things going, and pulled even midway through the first half. Not to be outdone, the Rams responded, taking a 27-19 lead on a shot by Dominique McKoy with five minutes left in the half. George Mason responded, tying the game at 33 on a bucket by Bryon Allen just before halftime. The second half continued much like the first, as the two teams traded the lead. Rhode Island took a five-point lead at the 8:30 mark, but not to be outdone, George Mason came back to take a one point lead with six minutes left in the game. The teams continued to go back and forth until the final minute, then a Rhode Island three by Jonathan Holton with 30 seconds left tied the game at 80. George Mason's attempt to win the game in regulation came up short, and my first game of the year went into overtime.
In the extra session, the Patriots were the first to take the lead. A three pointer by Vertrail Vaughns gave them an 83-80 lead. The lead reached as high as 86-81, but the Rams never quit, fighting their way back to within one with two minutes left. However, despite holding the Patriots on defense, they were not able to convert on the offensive end, and George Mason, which after splitting two free throws with 10 seconds left, led 92-90. A Rams three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game was off the mark, and Paul Hewitt was victorious in his first game. As we exited the arena, there were cheers from the hometown crowd, as the Patriots were victorious, and a new era began with a victory. Whether or not success will continue remains to be seen, but as a fan, I will say that it's always better to open with a win.
at GEORGE MASON 92, RHODE ISLAND 90 11/11/2011
RHODE ISLAND 0-1 (0-0) -- J. Wilson 13-22 11-12 38; M. Powell 3-11 4-4 11; J. Holton 2-11 7-10 12; N. Malesevic 5-11 0-0 12; O. Outerbridge 4-9 2-4 11; D. McKoy 3-4 0-1 6; L. Shengelia 0-2 0-0 0; R. Harris 0-1 0-0 0; T. Buchanan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-71 24-31 90. GEORGE MASON 1-0 (0-0) -- S. Wright 8-13 1-2 17; R. Pearson 11-22 6-9 28; B. Allen 4-10 1-3 9; V. Vaughns 5-10 5-6 17; E. Copes 1-4 0-2 2; M. Morrison 5-7 1-2 11; J. Arledge 2-3 0-2 4; C. Edwards 1-2 2-2 4; V. Gray 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 37-72 16-28 92.
Three-point goals: URI 6-25 (J. Wilson 1-2; O. Outerbridge 1-3; N. Malesevic 2-7; J. Holton 1-7; M. Powell 1-6), GMU 2-14 (R. Pearson 0-3; V. Vaughns 2-4; S. Wright 0-2; B. Allen 0-3; J. Arledge 0-1; C. Edwards 0-1); Rebounds: URI 37 (J. Holton 14), GMU 39 (R. Pearson 12); Assists: URI 13 (M. Powell 6), GMU 18 (B. Allen 7); Total Fouls -- URI 27, GMU 23; Fouled Out: URI-N. Malesevic; GMU-M. Morrison.