Louisville is in a cross-roads in their history as a basketball program.
On Sunday afternoon, the George Mason Patriots did not care.
Traveling to the KFC Yum! Center, Mason was looking for their first win over a ranked opponent in the Dave Paulsen era. They gave the Cardinals all they could handle but Mason would go on to fall 72-61 in their second game of the year.
Jaire Grayer, on his 21st birthday, delivered arguably the best performance of his two-year career. It was the 6-5 guard’s second double-double at Mason. Accounting for 20 points and 10 rebounds, the anticipation from the off-season is true. Grayer can fill in for the hole left by Marquise Moore.
Early on George Mason (1-1) prevented Louisville from scoring in their half-court offense, allowing only six points in the first half, leading 27-24 at the break. The remaining 18 were off turnovers or in transition situations.
In the second half, things completely changed. Louisville scored 35 of their 47 points on offensive sets.
Louisville (1-0) got going from the onset of the second half. Initially the Patriots matched the Cardinals, but then Louisville showed why they were ranked to start the year. A 14-2 run in the middle of the second half, gave Louisville the lead back. Six of those points were scored by Quentin Snider (10 points) one of two seniors on their roster.
Ultimately it was Louisville’s extra passing that did the Patriots in. They forced Mason to run all over the court in the second half to help counter the Patriots five bodies inside the paint. Something the Patriots are forced to do with a smaller line-up.
Junior, Deng Adel did just enough to keep the Cardinals in the game in the first half. He would finish with 20 points shooting 53 percent from the field.
Both Justin Kier and Ian Boyd had strong performances. Kier finished with a career-high 18 points for Mason, breaking his previous career-high 15 points he scored on Friday. Boyd also had 12 points, seven of those being in the first half.
Otis Livingston II had a rough night on the floor going 1-10 and playing for all 40 minutes.
The Cardinals did not have their long-time head coach Rick Pitino, fired due to his involvement in the FBI investigation last month. T full ramifications of the investigation are not yet determined.
This was the first game for interim head coach David Padgett. One has to give him credit after the adjustments he made during halftime.
While the loss is disappointing, there is a lot to be encouraged about for the Patriots. George Mason did match the Cardinals pound for pound during their initial streak. Mason was also able to keep points out of the paint, despite their lack of size. They also led for over half of the contest.
Of course. some inexperience did them in late from the freshmen. Aside from Goanar Mar (eight points, 1-5 FG), the remaining freshmen failed to score with a combined 19 minutes of action. It is clear after two games that Mason is not afraid to stick with their five starters.
If there was any chance Mason could make a charge to the NCAA Tournament, chalk this game up as a ‘quality loss.’ Now it is time for Mason to get this momentum going to the Cancun Challenge which starts on Thursday in Fairfax.