ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands (School Release)- The Mercer men's basketball team saw the longest win streak in the nation snapped at the hands of George Mason, 52-49, in the opening round of the Paradise Jam on Friday afternoon. Senior Travis Smith led all scorers with 17 points in the losing effort.
"We had some guys make some big plays, but we didn't handle the ball well enough to win the game," Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. "There were things we did well, but we didn't really deserve to win the game the way we played defense. We knew going into the game that they were a really good catch-and-shoot team, and that if we didn't guard them we'd be in trouble."
Mercer's defeat knocks the team to 2-1 on the year while George Mason improved to 2-1 overall. The Bears now await the loser of this afternoon's contest between New Mexico and Illinois-Chicago for a second-round matchup tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. EST.
Mercer led by as many as six at multiple times in the second half, but the Patriots scored seven-straight points to take a 44-43 lead with 2:19 remaining. That lead marked the Patriots first advantage in nearly 13 minutes of game time.
With 1:42 remaining, a pair of free throws by George Mason's Sherrod Wright put the Patriots on top, 46-45. Mercer turned it over on its next possession and George Mason's Vertrail Vaughns hit a jumper to put Mercer behind by three (48-45) as the clock went under one minute.
With 22 seconds left, Mercer still trailed by three (50-47) when Hoffman opted to call a timeout to draw up a game-tying play. Gollon found Smith in the corner for the triple, but his shot was deflected and George Mason came away with the rebound. Moments later, a pair of free throws on the other end sealed the win for the Patriots.
The loss was Mercer's first defeat since March 2, 2012 and ended the team's seven-game winning streak.
Smith's 17 points came on five-of-12 shooting and paired with two rebounds, two steals and one assist. Junior Daniel Coursey led the team in rebounding with five boards while also booking seven points and two blocks in 21 minutes.
Mercer junior Anthony White, Jr. provided a spark off the bench, scoring five points and tallying a rebound and an assist in 10 minutes of action. His efforts helped the Orange and Black hold a 16-13 edge in bench scoring.
"We need to try and mentally get ready for tomorrow," Hoffman said. "It will be a quick turnaround for both teams, but we've got to find a way to get it done."
Mercer also finished with advantages in fast break scoring (6-0) and points off turnovers (20-19). George Mason led scoring inside the paint 24-18, including a 16-6 edge in the second half.