In a battle of underclassmen-filled rosters, it was a George Mason senior that made the difference at Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday night.
Patriots guard Marquise Moore finished with a double-double — leading all players with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists — and George Mason held off St. Joe’s, 75-67, in an Atlantic 10 battle at Hagan Arena. The Hawks are now 8-7 (2-2 A-10) while the Patriots moved to 12-5 (2-2) with their first-ever win over St. Joe's.
The game heated up in the final three minutes. After George Mason had led most of the second half, St. Joe’s took its first lead in over 10 minutes when junior James Demery made a layup while absorbing a foul, giving the Hawks a 61-60 lead. That began a run of four consecutive baskets between the two squads, culminating in a go-ahead three-pointer by Patriots sophomore Otis Livingston off a Moore assist to put George Mason up, 65-63.
On the next possession, St. Joe's freshman Charlie Brown went up for a jumper that he said was tipped before it missed the net and went out of bounds. However, the refs gave the Patriots the ball and Moore drew a foul on the subsequent play, getting to the free throw line where George Mason pulled away in the final 90 seconds.
For most of the night, St. Joe's offense ran through the trio of Brown, Demery and Lamarr Kimble. The three players shot 47 of the Hawks' 64 field goal attempts, making 20 of them. Kimble led the team with 18 points on 18 shots, Demery fouled out with 16 points and Brown finished with a career-high 17 points.
St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli was frustrated with the offensive effort from his squad as it produced just five assists while turning it over 14 times. The team also made just five of its 21 three-point attempts.
“We’re not winning games with 67 points,” Martelli said. “I don’t know another way. Fourteen turnovers, and you saw them. Threw the ball off a foot. Offensive rebound and throw the ball back.
"... We had a very good practice [Monday]. A very good offensive practice [Monday] and had nothing. Nothing. We were just pulling and priding each possession down. That’s not successful for us."
Brown echoed his coach’s sentiments and said that St. Joe’s “should have won this game by at least 15 points.”
“I think we were just making mental mistakes,” Brown said. “Turning the ball over, missing shots that we usually don’t miss.
The Hawks were playing just their third game since leading scorer Shavar Newkirk went down for the season with a torn ACL. His absence was notable with the aforementioned trio forced to hoist shots during many empty possessions. Martelli mentioned that the team was putting too much on Kimble, saying "an 18-shot guy."
What may have frustrated Martelli the most was the lack of assists St. Joe's put together.
"It’s bad basketball. That’s the right number to look at," he said of the Hawks' five assists. "We over dribble and we need some playmakers. We need guys that are confident enough to make a play. That doesn’t mean take a shot, and we had a lot of that tonight. We had guys just taking shots.
"I have to do more for it. I have to help them with movement. I’m really disappointed because practice last night was really good, but that was bad basketball. Really bad."
While St. Joe's struggled on offense, Moore provided the difference on the other end. Despite his 6-foot-2 frame, the guard averages over 17 points and 10 boards, and he did a bit of everything on both ends of the court Tuesday night. He was particularly effective driving to the basket, including a few coast-to-coast layups. Demery was complementary of how Moore gets into a defender's body and produces despite being seemingly allergic to shooting threes.
As one of just two seniors to get significant minutes for the Patriots, Moore's strong veteran presence helped allow an underclassmen-laden squad find its bearings during a key road win.
"It’s huge because the one thing about him is that he didn’t get rattled," George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. "I wouldn’t say he played great in the first half – he had nine points. He was frustrated but he didn’t get rattled. He kept playing. He kept moving the ball. And he did other things. He got on the glass. He was a willing passer."
With the loss, the Hawks fell to .500 in conference. Martelli referred to the loss as a “wasted opportunity” and it comes right before a big test: the Hawks face Atlantic 10-leading Richmond on Saturday afternoon.