Closing out non-conference play is always about ensuring that a team can gain momentum heading into the conference season.
For George Mason, the beginning of the year has been a tough stretch. Quirky scoring slumps, poor offense, lack of depth has all hurt the team. But on Friday, no matter how you put it, the Patriots put together their best basketball of the season (so far) to knock off Morgan State 86-79.
Scoring 54 in the final 20 min, the largest scoring half of the season by far, George Mason (6-7) came back after being down 10 at the break. Sophomore Justin Kier was a huge part of that inside of EagleBank Arena.
Scoring a career-high 22 points, Kier led all Patriots in scoring. In the second half alone, the 6-4 guard had 16 points, shooting 7-8 from the field.
Since his injury against Cal State Northridge, which appeared to be on his left ankle, Kier had not been quite the same. Against Penn State he did put up 17 points, but nine of those were given at the charity stripe. His aggressive mentality, creating his own shot, was almost non-existent and it also hurt the rest of the Patriot offense.
Now after a 9-12 shooting performance, to go with six rebounds and two assists, the Spotswood High School graduate appears to be back in form.
He, along with Otis Livingston II provided an incredible run for the Patriots in the second half. During a stretch in the final five minutes, Livingston (14 points, five assists) and Kier combined for 12 straight points for the Patriots. None perhaps more notable than some transition baskets that Mason Nation has been eagerly been waiting for.
It would be a disservice to not celebrate the performance from Morgan State’s Tiwian Kendley in this game. The senior made his first appearance of the season after being suspended for the Bears’ first 10 games of the year and he did not miss a beat. Leading all scorers with 31 points, there was a point where many questioned if he could even be stopped. In the first half he had 20 of the Bears’ 42 points and it was not until Mason’s coaching staff switched Kier to cover him that his numbers cooled down.
For the Bears (4-7) it was only Kendley and fellow senior Phillip Carr that could score. Carr finished the night with 23 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double on the season. Other than that, the other eight players had a combined 25 points.
Mason would outscore their opponents in the paint, a rarity, 40-22. The team also finally found some sort of a stroke behind the arc, mainly Jaire Grayer. Hitting a career-high five three-pointers, the junior had 19 points, the most for him since Dec. 6.
Down the rest of the line-up there was a slight scare with A.J. Wilson in the first half after going down to an injury.
A.J. Wilson is on the ground grabbing his left shoulder. Currently he is being attended to by the training staff.
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) December 23, 2017
He would make a slight return in the second half but only for three total minutes of action. The electric player had two points, two rebounds, and a block in his limited action.
In his second start, Greg Calixte also had a career-high in points with nine, going 4-4 from the field. It was the second most minutes he played all year (20) and perhaps the most comfortable minutes we have seen from the freshman.
Overall Mason attempted to shrug off the fact they had lost four of their last five games. There is a bench and a post presence, ball handling from those not named Livingston and Kier have improved, and the three point shooting is somewhat respectable. If the non-conference was about learning it appear the team did a lot of that and so did the people watching.
Now all the attention turns to Atlantic 10 play and a big test in Rhode Island looming. The beauty about mid-major basketball though is that it is a whole new season once conference play comes around.