Freshman Jalen Johnson had only started in one game prior to the Billikins matchup with George Mason on Saturday afternoon.
In his second start ever, the 6’7” forward got the Saint Louis offense a spark they have been missing since Jermaine Bishop’s injury in non-conference play. With five dagger threes from Johnson, he scored 17 points and 10 rebounds for his first ever career double-double in a 63-56 upset win at EagleBank Arena.
It was a tale of two halves between George Mason (12-6, 2-3) and Saint Louis (5-12, 1-5).
Shooting an abysmal 22 percent in the first half, the Patriots could not comeback despite scoring 38 in the final 20 minutes. With only 18 points, the team made more free throws (7) than baskets (5) and Marquise Moore was held scoreless with two fouls before the break.
“This is the worst performance of the season, it’s really incredibly disappointing,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “We have way too many guys worried about their offense instead of how to help their team.”
Their offensive struggles were similar to what George Mason went through against St. Bonaventure. Without Moore to keep control of the offense, and Jalen Jenkins out of the game, everything just unraveled for Mason.
Jaire Grayer ignited the team with four three point baskets, three of them in the second half. He scored 16 points and had four rebounds, including two big offensive boards in the second half.
This is all coming in the first game that he did not start all season, which was due to a coaching decision.
With a winter storm looming on the outside, George Mason used a comeback storm out of halftime to claw back against the Billikins. Trailing by as much as 16 in the first half, the Patriots used an 11-2 run get right back in the game right out of the break.
Mason’s two key players, Moore and Jenkins, were stuck in foul trouble all night. With the size of the Billikins in the paint, there was nothing the Patriots could do to ignite their offense besides forced three pointers from Grayer.
Using a quick burst in the comeback attempt, Moore finished the night with his 11th double-double on the season, 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Jenkins (nine points) would end up giving the Patriots their first lead since the opening minutes of the game at 54-52 on a post shake down low with four minutes remaining. That would end up being answered by a 7-0 run by Saint Louis to close out the game.
Reggie Agbeko pulled in some pivotal plays for Saint Louis when Jenkins was on the bench for Mason. At the end of the night he was just shy of a double-double with 12 points, and nine rebounds. Jenkins’ backups, Troy Temara and Daniel Relvao got beat in their positioning consistently on the night and combined for the same amount of turnovers as points.
Saint Louis came into tonight’s contest as one of the worst offensive teams in the country. Although they ended up shooting worse than the Patriots, 38 percent, they limited their turnovers to only seven being a difference maker.
In addition 20 points off of turnovers ended up helping Saint Louis more than Mason, which was a key going into the game for the Patriots.
This is Mason’s biggest loss since Mount St. Mary’s back in November. If the Patriots were planning on any post-season aspirations, it took a big hit following contest. The team has a slight break with seven days off in-between games and travel to Richmond next week.
“We got to restore some pretty big kinks in our culture,” Paulsen said.