CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) George Mason coach Dave Paulsen understands it will take time for the Patriots to become a polished group on offense. Their showing against Mississippi was a good start.
The Patriots (1-2) won their first game since Paulsen took over last March, outlasting the Rebels of the Southeastern Conference 68-62 to open the Charleston Classic on Thursday.
Shevon Thompson had 19 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks to lead the Patriots, who saw their 13-point second-half lead disappear before rallying back.
”We’re a work in progress offensively, so that’s to be expected,” Paulsen said of the late breakdowns. ”A couple of the plays our freshmen made the last minute, I think they’re trying to put me in the box. But they bounced back.”
Marquise Moore had the biggest plays down the stretch for George Mason. He hit his only 3-pointer after Ole Miss had come from 52-39 down to tie the game at 56-all.
Moore again came through after the Rebels (2-1) closed to 61-60 with 91 seconds left with a driving layup that seemed to catch Ole Miss on their heels.
Thompson’s defense came into play with a block on Sebastian Saiz in the final minute with Mississippi down just three. The Patriots closed with a 7-1 run.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said the 6-foot-11 Thompson was decisive and effective beneath the basket. Thompson made his first six shots before forcing the Rebels to pack down low with more than one defender.
”We allowed Thompson to get to his left hand and he shot over the top of us a couple of times,” Kennedy said. ”I thought he was really dominant against us.”
Jaire Grayer had 15 points and Moore 12 for the Patriots. Stefan Moody led Ole Miss with 18 points, 13 coming in the second half.
Saiz came into this game with double-doubles in his first two contests for the Rebels. But he was just 3 of 9 with Thompson underneath.
Mississippi was looking to build on its solid start and open 3-0 for the fourth time in five seasons. But the Rebels got off slowly, going 2 of 10 from the floor to fall behind.
The Ole Miss starters struggled to hit shots against George Mason. Other than Stefan Moody, who made 7 of 12, the four other starters combined to go 9 of 35. That included double-digit average scorers Saiz and Sam Finley. Saiz finished 3 of 9 while Finley was 4 of 14. The Rebels shot 34.8 percent for the game, their lowest showing this season.
All 15 of George Mason’s assists came from their starting five. 6-8 senior Marko Gujanicic led the way with six while Otis Livingston and Moore had three apiece. Paulsen said he liked seeing his players find their open teammates.
George Mason: The Patriots are back in the Charleston Classic for the first time since 2010. That year, they defeated Charlotte in the opener before falling to North Carolina State and Wofford.
Mississippi: The Rebels are 18-6 in regular-season tournaments in Kennedy’s previous nine seasons. They won the Emerald Coast Classic in 2014, the Barclays Classic in 2013 and the San Juan Shootout in 2007.
George Mason will play either Oklahoma State or Towson here Friday.
Mississippi will play either Oklahoma State or Towson here Friday.