Second half run leads SIU

FAIRFAX — At halftime of Saturday’s non-conference game against Southern Illinois, George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga thought his kids were a little too excited about being up 38-28.

Whatever energy that the Patriots spent during the first half and in the locker room at halftime seemed to transfer uniforms in the second half as the Salukis rebounded from a 10-point deficit to win 73-66 before a crowd of 3,114 at the Patriot Center.

Kent Williams and Jermaine Dearman had 26 and 19 points, respectively, to lead Southern Illinois, ranked 31st in the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN poll, to their seventh win of the season.

“It appeared to me that we were very excited at halftime to be up 10 instead of coming into the locker room like we have been every other night just thinking, ‘Hey, we’re playing pretty good, we just got to keep it up,’ ” Larranaga said. “It’s almost like we were celebrating at halftime. You can’t do that. The game is 40 minutes and you’ve got to play for 40.”

Conversely, the Salukis literally woke up in the nick of time and started playing more aggressively during the second half. Mason started off the second half with a turnover in their halfcourt set and Marcus Belcher hit a three-pointer to slice the deficit to just 38-31. Jermaine Dearman followed with a score down low and a steal and layup by Stetson Hairston made it just 38-35 and put the Salukis right back in the game.

“In the first half I thought we came out kind of dead,” Potomac grad Rolan Roberts said. “I could tell on the bus ride over that guys were sleeping and I was kind of dozing off myself. I just knew that were going to come out flat, but we really turned it on in the second half.”

While Williams provided the offense from the outside — he hit 5-of-9 three-pointers, and Dearman scored 11 second-half points — it was the spark provided by Roberts late in the game that helped put the Salukis over the top for good.

With the Salukis clinging to a 61-58 lead, Roberts got behind the Patriots defense with two seconds left on the shot clock, and put home a thunderous dunk. After three-pointer by Lamar Butler in Mason’s ensuing possession, Roberts converted on a tip-in, grabbed a defensive rebound on a missed three-pointer by Butler and then grabbed another offensive rebound and scored to give Southern Illinois a 67-61 lead with just over a minute to play.

The Patriots (5-2) never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

“I just need to stay in there and make plays for the team and do what I need to do for us to win,” said Roberts, a senior who sat out last year after transferring from Virginia Tech.

After Roberts’ second putback, Jermaine Dearman made the score 69-63 with a pair of free throws. After a miss on the front end of a one-and-one situation by Hairston, Butler knocked down another three-pointer to cut the lead to 69-66 with 45 seconds left. The Patriots fouled Hairston again with 40.3 seconds.

Hairston made the first and missed the second. However, Hairston somehow grabbed the carom off his second free throw in front of all five Mason players on the floor and found Williams, who was fouled immediately.

Williams connected on both free throws to give the Salukis a 72-66 lead that all but assured the victory, one that was important for a team that already beat Indiana, Iowa State and St. Louis and lost by just three to No. 6 Illinois.

“This was a real big win,” Dearman said. “From now on, every game counts. We just beat IU [Indiana] but if we would have lost tonight, this game wouldn’t have meant nothing.”

For the Patriots, Butler had 14 points and four rebounds and Terrance Nixon and Raoul Heinen added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Jon Larranaga also contributed nine points and eight rebounds, six of them offensive. The game was the first ever between the two schools.

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