George Mason Nips Men’s Hoops in Opener
FAIRFAX, Va. – The Lafayette men’s basketball team took Atlantic 10 foe George Mason to the brink on the road to open the 2017-18 season on Friday evening, but shots wouldn’t fall in the final seconds as the home side escaped with a 67-65 victory.
Senior co-captain Matt Klinewski became Lafayette’s 44th 1,000-point scorer in the game and led all scorers with 18 points. The Voorhees, N.J. native has expanded his range this season, draining 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the contest.
Sophomore Myles Cherry’s put-back on an errant E.J. Stephens three with under a minute to play knotted the game at 65-65. Lafayette got its stop, but an Eric Stafford three attempt at the end of the shot clock with 10 seconds left was off the mark. Free throws from Justin Kier put the Patriots in front and a turnover with less than a second remaining ended it.
Up against a team that ranked 13th in the nation in defensive rebounding a year ago, the Leopards controlled the glass, a pleasant turnaround after struggling in that category last season. Cherry ripped down a team-high eight boards, while Klinewski added seven to lead to a 38-33 advantage overall.
Joining Klinewski in double-figure scoring on the night was classmate and co-captain Eric Stafford, who added five rebounds, two assists and a steal to his 10-point outing. Sophomore Lukas Jarrett also added 10, with eight coming in the first two minutes.
Lafayette went to the line just four times on the night, missing all four, and went 27-of-64 from the field (42.2%) and 11-of-31 from beyond the three-point line (35.5%). Stephens got his first career start, knocking down 4-of-9 from the field for eight points.
For Mason, balance was key, boasting five double-digit scoring performers. Jaire Grayer recorded 17 points on 6-of-11 from the field, while Kier added 15, knocking down all five of his free-throw attempts. Otis Livingston, Goanar Mar and Ian Boyd rounded out the production with 14, 11 and 10 points, respectively, as all 67 points came from the Patriots’ starting five.
Jarrett got the Leopards going early, scoring the team’s first eight points to open up an early 8-5 lead after the opening two minutes. Mason’s defense stepped up, though, over the next four-minute stretch, as a Boyd layup in transition forced a Lafayette timeout at the 14:53 mark with the home side on top, 19-11.
After another Mason three out of the break to push it to 22-11, the Leopards stormed back over the next three minutes as triples from freshman Alex Petrie and Klinewski, coupled with a pair of jumpers from Stephens, sparked a 10-0 run that brought the deficit back within one midway through the first stanza.
A steal and finish above the rim on the other end on the next possession from junior Paulius Zalys gave Lafayette its second lead since 3-0, 23-22. But Mason responded and the teams traded buckets through the eight-minute media timeout with the home side in front, 28-27.
The Patriots opened up a lead as high as six with 3:32 left, but it was the Leopards that closed the half better. Four from Zalys and a crafty post bucket from Klinewski with less than a minute to play put the game into the break with Lafayette down by just two, 38-36, closing the half on an 8-1 run.
The Leopards were able to hold firm on an early George Mason run that pushed the home lead to seven, 47-40, with 17:08 on the clock. Three’s from Klinewski and Petrie took it to the first media with the deficit at three, 51-48.
The two teams traded buckets from then forward as the biggest lead for either side was four for Mason at 56-52 with 9:34 on the clock. Stephens got in on the offensive glass to give Lafayette the late lead, up 60-58 just prior to the four-minute timeout, but Kier’s free throws and Stafford’s miss ended up as the difference in defeat.
The second of a four-game road trip to open the 2017-18 season comes up next for the Maroon and White, traveling to Newark, N.J. for a battle with NJIT on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.