Anything can happen during any game. The College of Charleston had been on a roll. They were 10-2 on the season, only losing to UCF in the Bahamas and close to Louisville in a game they led most of the way. George Mason had already lost 4 on the season, including games to Florida Atlantic and Florida International and a home loss to Bucknell.
The Cougars were on a 15-game home win streak. They hadn't lost since last Dec. 22 against Clemson, in a game hotly contested to the last whistle which the Cougs lost by seven because of free throws. Their home court advantage was muted in that game because of thousands of Clemson fans.
George Mason basketball, even after a Final Four berth just six seasons ago, when they were the toast of the nation, and after winning a game in the NCAA last year, has been relegated back to second-class status in the Washington area under new coach Paul Hewitt.
The sports stations barely cover the team unless they get a big win, where they then talk about them for a little bit. No local media traveled with the Patriots to Charleston. Only the team's play-by-play guy and a couple others made it to Charleston.
WTOP, the omnipresent all-news station that's #1 in the market, gave only a brief mention of the game on their half-hourly sportscasts, burying it behind the Capitals, Wizards, Redskins, and other college football and basketball teams. Local media is missing a lot.
This game was one which seemed weird from the get go. The game sold out TD Arena, even with no students. Many students showed up from the local area though. The section wasn't filled, but a good amount of people showed up. Several basketball teams in town for the Roundball Classic, the big local tournament, showed up, including Don Bosco from New Jersey.
George Mason, being a large commuter university, brought several dozen fans, including a guy wearing a lime green snuggie. He is not a GMU alum, but he shows up at most College of Charleston home games, and roots for the opposing team. Students make derisive cheers toward him every game, but he usually takes it. A couple of times, he has been chased around by Clyde the Cougar, the team's mascot. Apparently, the snuggie, which replaced the guy in the lime green sweater who usually shows up, comes from George Mason, and they bring it to most of the games.
The game was a weird one. The Cougs went off on an 8-0 start, and many fans thought it was going to be a trademark blowout, just like last season. George Mason fought off the runs though, and a player that most basketball fans have never heard of, but should, Ryan Pearson, lit it up.
He was making shots from the perimeter. Inside, outside. Free throws. Dunks. He had 14 rebounds on the game. He had 19 points in the first half. CofC was down by eight at halftime. They had not been down that much at halftime at home since the home opener last year against Coastal Carolina when they trailed by 12, and later won.
Halftime was interesting. Most of the normal CofC dance crew were there, but they were replaced by a local youth dance team called "Just Dance." They performed very well, and they had a mix of young kids and teenagers. The crowd which stayed for halftime enjoyed it, and they were given an ovation.
Pearson, with his tattoos spread all over his body, wore out the Cougars in the second half. They had lots of early foul trouble in the first half, including Baru with two quick fouls, and Matt Sundberg with three, so they had to press. The Cougs fell down by 11 early in the half, but cut it to just two with about three minutes to go. Pearson struck again, making an unbelievable scoop shot that looked like it had no chance, but went, after they cut the deficit down.
This shot helped quash the Cougar rally that had been brewing and that most of the fans had expected throughout the second half. Pearson had 35 points in the game, a career high by six points, and dominated the Cougars' front line. The College tried several threes to cut the deficit in the final minute, but they were all missed and picked up for GMU rebounds. CofC had to foul, and the Patriots made most of their free throws.
It got out to a six-point deficit with 20 seconds left, and fans started leaving in droves, even in the student section. This is a rarity for CofC, as this was a feeling most people hadn't seen in a while, a tough loss at home. By the end of the game, GMU had stretched out the lead to eight, and only a couple thousand stayed to watch the last few seconds.
The crowd was very quiet at the end, not knowing what to do during a losing effort. George Mason just played the better game, and came out with a huge victory. Now, conference play awaits for both teams until March. The only respite are the Bracketbuster games on the weekend of Feb. 19.
It's hard to lose, but you gain experience from it. It's a long season.
GEORGE MASON 84, at CHARLESTON 76 12/30/2011
GEORGE MASON 9-4 (1-0) -- R. Pearson 15-25 4-4 35; B. Allen 3-7 4-5 11; A. Cornelius 3-6 0-0 8; V. Vaughns 5-9 0-0 12; M. Morrison 1-1 2-4 4; S. Wright 1-3 0-0 3; E. Copes 2-6 0-0 4; V. Gray 0-1 4-6 4; C. Edwards 1-2 0-0 3; J. Arledge 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-60 14-19 84. CHARLESTON 10-3 (2-0) -- A. Lawrence 1-6 4-4 7; A. Wiggins 7-13 5-8 19; A. Stitt 3-8 2-3 10; A. Baru 4-9 4-9 12; T. Wiedeman 6-12 3-3 15; M. Sundberg 4-8 0-0 10; J. Scott 1-4 1-1 3; J. Carlton 0-0 0-0 0; N. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 19-28 76.
Three-point goals: GMU 8-16 (A. Cornelius 2-4; R. Pearson 1-3; V. Vaughns 2-4; S. Wright 1-2; B. Allen 1-1; C. Edwards 1-1; V. Gray 0-1), COFC 5-21 (A. Wiggins 0-2; M. Sundberg 2-5; A. Lawrence 1-6; J. Scott 0-2; A. Stitt 2-6); Rebounds: GMU 33 (R. Pearson 14), COFC 28 (A. Wiggins 9); Assists: GMU 16 (B. Allen 5), COFC 14 (A. Lawrence 6); Total Fouls -- GMU 21, COFC 20; Fouled Out: GMU-None; COFC-A. Wiggins.