Through three games this season there was little to no production from the bench, but with dominant performances from Jaire Grayer and Justin Kier they didn’t need to.
On Saturday night at EagleBank Arena the bench was forced to step up and A.J. Wilson delivered with his coming out party.
Behind his 12 points, and a commanding eight blocks on the night, Wilson fully introduced himself to the Green and Gold, leading George Mason to a 78-73 overtime win over Cal State Northridge.
“He came out with a lot of energy, a lot of energy plays early, and he was just ready to go,” Goanar Mar said.
With a dunk off an in-bounds play and two monster threes, Wilson ignited a 20-7 run over a nine minute span in the second half. While his offense was great it was his defense that got the Patriots fired up. Two of his eight blocks came during their comeback run.
“A.J. Wilson was nothing short of phenomenal off the bench for us” head coach Dave Paulsen said. Padding his stats in only 22 minutes on the court.
— Petey Buckets (@peteybuckets) November 19, 2017
Otis Livingston II finished the incredible run with a falling-down, wrap-around, and-one, lay-up to give the Patriots (3-1) their first lead in the second half.
Wilson was the spark, but it was Mar who willed George Mason to a victory.
Late in the first half, Grayer went down hard and was rolled up on by CSUN’s Michael Warren off of a rebound. Lying on the baseline, Grayer was yelling in pain as the training staff attended to his knee. Leaving the court, Grayer (nine points in 20 minutes) would return briefly in the second half but barely see any significant minutes.
Jaire Grayer on the ground yelling in pain. He's grabbing his left knee, currently being attended to by the training staff.
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) November 18, 2017
In the postgame press conference Paulsen believed that Grayer’s injury does not to be that serious. Not much time for him to rest-up either, the team travels to Cancun, Mexico for games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
That was not all. Midway through the second period, it was Kier’s turn to seek assistance from the training staff. The 6-4 sophomore would also make a return to the contest but appeared to be favoring his left ankle. He finished with four points, eight rebounds, and six assists.
Now Justin Kier quickly being helped to the locker room, couldn't put full pressure on one of his legs.
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) November 19, 2017
This is where Mar stepped up. At 6-7 he spread open the court, playing mostly outside of the arc. Normally he was the biggest player for the Patriots drawing the biggest match-ups, which he would go on to torch for pull-ups and drives into the paint. This resulted in a career-high 22 points, 11 rebounds and his first double-double of the year. Better yet, he hit the game tying basket with 14 seconds by stopping on a dime and forcing overtime.
“We’ve got to be better at the start, we didn’t defend with a level of urgency. We also didn’t move the ball,” Paulsen said.
Tavrion Dawson led all scorers with 26 points and added 11 rebounds for Cal State Northridge (1-2). Generally Mason had no answer for the forward throughout the night, and “he imposed his will” according to Paulsen. Rushed shots and the Patriots match-up zone were the only thing that slowed him down.
For the third time at home this year, Mason’s defense shut down their opponent in the second half. The Matadors opened the game 53 percent from the field, but in the second only hit 28 percent of their shots. They also forced CSUN to 12 turnovers, more than they have given up all season.
Down the stretch Mason nailed their free throws (19-20), a concern many had after the start to this season. Livingston also added 20 points for Mason and five assists.