NEW YORK — This game was looking like carbon copy of the first matchup between St. Joseph’s and George Mason this season. The Hawks had an early lead, George Mason closed the first half on a strong run, and St. Joe’s played catch-up by methodically eating into the lead.
The Hawks could never get over the hump in the first matchup, and that theme repeated itself as George Mason defeated the Hawks, 77-70, Wednesday afternoon in an opening-round game of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center.
George Mason (17-15, 5-13 A-10) led by as many as 13 early in the second half. A stretch that included three Toliver Freeman threes helped St. Joe’s trim the lead to one. However, the Patriots answered with a 7-0 run of their own.
The Hawks finished their season at 6-26, 2-16.
Ryan Daly went out swinging. The junior led the Hawks with 28 points on 12-for-23 shooting. Freeman scored a career-high 18 points, and Cameron Brown added 10.
St. Joe’s lives and dies by three-pointers. When things went right, the Hawks were knocking them down, but it wasn’t at a consistent rate. They shot 10-for-33 from three-point range.
St. Joe’s wanted to limit Javon Greene after he scored 20 points in the last meeting. The Hawks succeeded by holding Greene to 14 points on 3-for-13 shooting, but AJ Wilson picked up the slack. The A-10′s most improved player finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.
“That game was like a real testament to the season that we had,” first-year Hawks coach Billy Lange said. “Our motto of the school is the Hawk will never die, and I believe this team embraced that spirit for the entire season.”
“I just try to keep that message going that we’re never out of it," Daly said. “We showed at the end that we were never out of it. We just didn’t have a few balls bounce our way.”
“He’s the most improved player in our league for a reason,” Lange said of Wilson. “The offensive-rebound putbacks are undefendable. He stepped up and did a great job."
Rebounding was a big concern for Lange. The Patriots are one of the best rebounding teams in the A-10, and they showed why Wednesday. George Mason finished with a 47-28 rebounding advantage.
St. Joe’s decided to run a full-court trap, which led to a foul while it was trailing by 69-66 with 40 seconds remaining. The Hawks could have tried to play defense straight-up and get the ball back with one more chance to tie it. Lange said the plan was to trap and try to create a turnover before eventually fouling.