AMHERST — There was no final-minute comeback for the University of Massachusetts this time against George Mason. Not for a lack of effort, though. The Minutemen simply created a deficit too big to overcome.
Playing for the first time ever in the Mullins Center on Wednesday night, George Mason handed the Minutemen their first home defeat of the season, 91-80, and kept UMass from getting its 200th victory in the building. The Patriots avenged an 88-87 loss to the Minutemen on Jan. 15, when a 5-point lead with 41 seconds left melted away.
After taking an 8-5 lead on a 3-pointer by Marquise Moore, the Patriots never trailed again, winning for the second straight time on the road and ending a modest two-game winning streak for UMass (19-5, 6-4 Atlantic 10).
It won’t send the Minutemen to the NCAA Tournament projection bubble, but it’ll go down as a bad loss. George Mason (9-15, 2-8) came into the game in last place in the A-10, with an RPI of No. 167.
Looking to use the first five minutes of the second half to get back into the game, UMass instead fell further behind. George Mason scored the first 6 points, all in the paint, to grab a 48-32 lead. The Patriots pushed it to 17 before the first media timeout of the second half, 50-33.
It wasn’t offense that let UMass down in the second half as it tried to once again rally; the Minutemen couldn’t get enough defensive stops. While the clock kept moving, UMass and George Mason kept trading baskets and free throws, the Patriots’ lead fluctuating between 11 and 14 points for 13 straight game minutes.
The Minutemen didn’t get any closer until Trey Davis made a free throw with exactly three minutes left to make it 80-70. UMass twice cut it to 7, but could get no closer.
“We lost a home game, one that we should have won and should have played a little better, a little more energized,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “That wasn’t one of our better games of the season, to say the least. Their guards did a good job of controlling the game. We got beat.”
Sherrod Wright was a one-man wrecking crew for George Mason, scoring 11 straight points in a three-minute span of the second half. He started it with a high-arcing jumper (making it 69-56), and ended it with a pair of free throws (78-65). In between, he had a 3-pointer, a pair of free throws, and a 12-foot floater.
Wright finished with a game-high 22 points, one of five George Mason players in double figures.
“For us to come back up here and make plays . . . we had completely forgotten that game, honestly. We played well against them last time, and they made plays at the end,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “We came out and played really well [Wednesday], from start to finish.”
Davis scored 20 points to lead UMass, with Sampson Carter adding 16. Chaz Williams was limited to 8 points on 3-for-15 shooting, breaking a streak of five straight double-digit games. Davis was in for Williams late in the game, with Kellogg saying afterward that Williams is dealing with a few nagging injuries.
The Patriots used a 13-2 first-half run to take its biggest lead, 37-25, with 2:43 left on a driving layup by Jalen Jenkins. The Patriots did it the first 20 minutes with aggressiveness, turning seven offensive rebounds into 9 second-chance points and attacking the basket; depth, using a nine-man rotation, with eight players scoring; and opportunity, scoring 12 points off six UMass turnovers.
The Minutemen struggled from the start, turning it over four times in the game’s first four minutes. They controlled the ball much better after that, but George Mason used a combination of long-range shooting (5-for-8 on first-half 3-pointers) and tight defense to take a 42-32 halftime lead.
It won’t get any easier for UMass on Saturday, when the Minutemen play at George Washington. The Colonials are 7-3 in the A-10, alone in third. With the loss, the Minutemen are alone in sixth.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.