American University made the short trip to Fairfax, VA to face off against a fellow local team with a lot of expectations. In front of 5,774 raucous fans, American kept its composure late and in overtime to get a 78-75 victory over George Mason.
Preseason Patriot League Player of the Year, Sa’eed Nelson scored 24 points and none bigger than this three point play in overtime. Down by one with 35 seconds left, Nelson was matched up with George Mason’s Ian Boyd. Nelson, none of getting in the lane by changing speeds, was able to put Boyd on his hip, draw the foul and finish the layup. His made free throw gave the Eagles (1-0) a 76-75 lead. A lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Ultimately, it would be American’s composure that would lead them to the upset win. With the game tied late in regulation, Nelson drove the ball to the basket. There was contact but no foul was called. George Mason came out and scored the first four points of overtime. This would’ve been a perfect time for the Eagles to fold but they didn’t. Nelson’s ability to keep the offense calm was the key. It’s something he has grown at since arriving to Tenleytown two years ago. “I know when shots are going to come for me, I know when shots are going to come for other guys,” said Nelson.
Tonight the “other guys” including Mark Gasperini. The Eagles’ big man missed last night because of a concussion and was definitely a welcomed sight. In 29 minutes, Gasperini scored 14 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Sophomore Sam Iorio got off to a slow start but finished with a strong 17 and 13 performance. Perhaps his biggest play came with the Eagles down by four in overtime. After a Stacy Beckton missed three pointer, Iorio grabbed an offensive rebound. Despite having his shot blocked out of bounds by Patriot big man, Jarred Reuter, it would lead to a three pointer by Marvin Bragg. Without Iorio’s toughness, George Mason would be up four with only 1:07 left.
On the other side, George Mason coach, Dave Paulsen lamented his team’s decision making during crunch time. “We have to figure out a way to close out games,” said Paulsen. It was the Patriots second close loss in four days. On Tuesday, they fell to Penn 71-70.
For the first time in years, George Mason had expectations of being a force in the Atlantic 10. They’ve started out with two close losses at home and it has Paulsen searching for ways to change that. The late game struggles are surprising considering how many games the Patriots won at the end last season. They haven’t made the game defining plays on either end o the floor. Paulsen said they need to “come up with plays down the stretch… the key stops”.
The Eagles will try and keep the momentum as they head to Northwestern. American will get their first look at the Wildcats new arena (Welsh-Ryan).
George Mason will play their first road game at Georgia Southern.