I had a hard time psyching myself up for this game. The Tribe of William & Mary and their 2-12 record traveled to the Patriot Center as 18.5-point underdogs against the George Mason Patriots. The weather in Fairfax was cold and windy. The DC metro area traffic was predictably sluggish. And my residual New Year's hangover made lounging on my couch watching meaningless NCAA bowl games seem -- for a brief moment -- more palatable than taking in Our Game.
But then I remembered something. This game marked the (un)official start of conference season -- when guarantee games and RPI watching ends and #smac talk begins. And while the winter break timing of the game meant that the Patriot Center would be a bit hollow, especially in the student section where I've watched so many wins and losses, I knew that I couldn't miss Mason's first contest of 2012.
As though to remind us why we watch the games, someone forgot to tell William & Mary that they were the underdogs in the first half. After Mason picked up the first five points, the Tribe came out firing, taking a 7-5 lead at the under-16 timeout and building a 20-10 lead at the midpoint of the half. Freshman guard Marcus Thornton lit up the floor for much of the half, knocking down #superhoop after #superhoop and generally frustrating the passionate, albeit underwhelming, Mason student section. After the Patriots crawled back into it, however, Mike Morrison picked off a pass and drove the floor for a monster #happy2012dunx to make it 29-27 Tribe, getting Mason Nation jumping in the stands and paving the way for Andre Cornelius to drain a #superhoop-layup combo. The Patriots took a 32-31 lead into the locker room.
The "fan of the game" contest at the under-16 timeout in the second half featured my Twitter acquaintance and seatmate @MasonFanatic. Alan's highlighter-yellow wig and authentic Luke Hancock jersey would have made him competitive in most of these, but in this game the vast majority of the 5,000-plus fans in attendance backed the pompom-wielding little girl. Alan never stood a chance. (He maintains that the contest was rigged.)
The Patriots actually playing the game, meanwhile, finally started clicking on offense. Mason rolled off an 18-1 run between halftime and the under-12 timeout, giving the home squad a 50-32 lead. From here until the horn sounded, William & Mary never reduced Mason's lead to single digits.
Around the halfway mark of the second half, a fantastic spontaneous chant arose from behind me in the student section. Students began heckling the Tribe's Tim Rusthoven, a forward with hair long enough to make Russell Brand jealous, with the chant "Rust-ho-ven, cut your hair!" Some may say that this was sophomoric, unwarranted, or even below-the-belt, since W&M was long out of the game at this point. But to them I say: it's conference season. What do you expect?
at GEORGE MASON 70, WILLIAM & MARY 56 01/02/2012
WILLIAM & MARY 2-13 (0-2) -- Q. McDowell 3-10 0-0 7; M. Thornton 7-13 5-6 23; M. Rum 1-3 0-0 2; K. Brown 0-3 0-2 0; T. Rusthoven 5-7 1-2 11; B. Britt 1-4 0-0 2; F. Heldring 3-4 0-0 7; T. Schalk 1-1 0-0 2; J. Boatner 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-47 6-10 56. GEORGE MASON 10-4 (2-0) -- M. Morrison 4-6 6-8 14; B. Allen 3-4 3-4 10; V. Vaughns 2-4 0-0 6; R. Pearson 5-9 1-3 11; S. Wright 0-4 3-4 3; A. Cornelius 7-10 1-1 20; J. Arledge 1-5 0-0 2; C. Edwards 1-2 0-0 2; E. Copes 1-2 0-0 2; V. Gray 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-48 14-20 70.
Three-point goals: CWM 6-20 (K. Brown 0-3; Q. McDowell 1-7; M. Rum 0-1; B. Britt 0-1; F. Heldring 1-1; T. Rusthoven 0-1; M. Thornton 4-6), GMU 8-17 (A. Cornelius 5-8; R. Pearson 0-1; V. Vaughns 2-3; S. Wright 0-1; B. Allen 1-1; J. Arledge 0-1; C. Edwards 0-1; V. Gray 0-1); Rebounds: CWM 27 (M. Rum 10), GMU 22 (M. Morrison 6); Assists: CWM 8 (B. Britt 3), GMU 18 (B. Allen 6); Total Fouls -- CWM 15, GMU 14; Fouled Out: CWM-T. Rusthoven; GMU-None.