Undermanned Patriots hang around


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FAIRFAX — It’s only taken three games for Jim Larranaga to figure out that this may be his toughest coaching job in 18 years of running basketball programs.

With just seven available players on Saturday night at the Patriot Center, George Mason used a late run to cut Mississippi’s lead to five with under a minute to play, but the Rebels held off the gassed Patriots for a 56-49 triumph.

For George Mason, which fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1979-80, hanging close to their visitors from the Southeastern Conference was little consolation. The Patriots shot just 11 of 23 from the free throw line and turned the ball over six more times than the Rebels (2-1).

“Missing 12 free throws in a game you only lose by seven, that hurts,” said forward Jon Larranaga.

But it wasn’t just free throws that doomed George Mason, already overmatched against a bigger, faster opponent (albeit one they defeated on the road last season). The Patriots could hardly get into their offense for stretches, and shot just 36 percent from the floor as a result.

“I think right now our offense is out of sync,” said Jon Larranaga. “I think every half this year we’ve gotten off to a slow start.”

A 5-0 run extended the Rebels’ early lead to 27-12 with 6:39 left in the first half, but George Mason got back into the game on a spinning layup from freshman Mark Davis, a runner from Davis, a putback from senior Jesse Young and a 3-pointer from Davis. They closed the half on a 9-2 run.

Ole Miss rotated 10 players in and pressed at times to wear the Patriots out. George Mason, who returned just three starters and has no healthy reserves who logged significant minutes last season, responded by using a 3-2 zone that slowed the pace of the game..

The Rebels’ foursome of Aaron Harper, David Sanders, Derrick Allen and Emmanuel Wade combined for 42 points. It was primarily those four that helped Ole Miss swell its lead to 49-33 in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

With the game just about out of reach for George Mason, Young scored on a dish from Larranaga and Richard Tynes converted a 3-point play to start a 12-1 rally. Young made two free throws with 1:20 left and Mason went to its full court press, but Ole Miss patiently worked through it and made it 52-45 when Trey Pearson found Allen under the basket for a layup that effectively sealed the game. The Patriots made two free throws and missed two 3-pointers before Larranaga made a layup with two seconds left.

Ravaged by injuries to nearly all of its significant returnees, including at least one (Darren Tarver) whose career is over and three (Collin Wyatt, Lamar Butler and Deon Cooper) whose returns are indefinite, the Patriot starters logged serious minutes. Raoul Heinen played all 40 minutes, bring the ball up in every set. Young, a preseason all-CAA pick, logged his 11th career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes. Larranaga played 35 minutes and Davis, who played at Springfield’s Lee High School, was on the floor for 36.

The Patriots lost by three to Central Michigan in its opener and fell at Southern Illinois 83-74.

“Right now we’ve got to kind of put our fingers in the hole in the dike,” said Jim Larranaga, who has revived the George Mason program in his six years in Fairfax.

“Fatigue does play a factor when you only have [seven] players,” Davis said.

With Duquesne coming to the Patriot Center on Monday, the Patriots hardly have time to catch their breath.

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