FAIRFAX — With only four returners from last season healthy enough to play so far this season, the boosts George Mason got from its first-year players Monday night in its 79-72 win over Duquesne were more than a pleasant surprise. They were a necessity.
Mark Davis, a junior from Palm Beach Community College, led the Patriots with 23 points and freshman Trent Wurtz added 13 in 19 minutes as George Mason nailed down its first win and sent the Dukes, of the Atlantic 10 conference and with a win over West Virginia under their belts, to 1-4.
For the Patriots’ success to continue, admits coach Jim Larranaga, such contributions are necessary.
“You’ve got to have more than one or two guys,” Larranaga said. “[Senior] Jesse [Young] is not Shaq and [senior] Jon [Larranaga] is not Kobe We’ve got to have balance.”
Against the Dukes, the balance showed in the Patriots’ best offensive performance of the season. Young, a preseason all-CAA pick who was averaging just 7.7 points per game, finished with 23 points and a game-high seven rebounds. Junior point guard Raoul Heinen added 12 as Mason shot 62 percent from the floor, including 75 percent in the first half. Larranaga also found it significant that his team had 18 assists on 28 made baskets.
Trailing 40-37 at the half, Davis and Wurtz carried the Patriots to start the second.
Like he had to begin the game, Wurtz made a layup right after the half began. He followed a Duquesne turnover with a 3-pointer and hit another three less than three minutes into the half.
“He’s the energizer bunny,” said Davis of Wurtz, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward from Sheboygan, Wis.
Davis, a 6-5 swingman who played at Springfield’s Lee High School, is a scorer with a quick burst to the basket. In the second half, he used a quick spin move to give himself space for a pull-up jumper. A few minutes later, he took a pass in the corner and drove baseline for a powerful two-handed dunk.
His shooting kept Mason afloat in the first half. He was 6 of 7 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, in the half. He finished 9 of 13 and 3 of 6.
“My teammates set me up in good scoring position,” Davis said. “And the shots went in tonight.”
Heeding Larranaga’s request to pass the ball more on offense and dribble less, the Patriots got easy looks at the basket. But Larranaga said his young team — which played just eight players, four in their first season in Fairfax — wasn’t sharp on defense in the first half.
Much of that was due to the sharp shooting of the Dukes’ Jimmy Tricco, who had 20 points and made his first six 3-point attempts. Duquesne shot 12 of 18 from 3-point range, keeping itself in the game with the long shots.
Richard Tynes gave the Patriots a spark with his frenetic on-the-ball defense, and his steal and layup with eight minutes left capped a 12-4 George Mason run that put it ahead 59-53.
Davis made a short jumper and later fired a pass to Heinen under the basket for a layup that made it 64-60. Young scored on a lob pass from Larranaga and Heinen made a three that made it 69-60, but Duquesne canned two quick threes to make it a three-point game with 2:10 left.
The Patriots made 10 of 14 free throws down the stretch to close out the win.
George Mason (1-3) travels to Coppin State on Wednesday and is home on Saturday evening against Niagara.