Bryon Allen made a deep, contested 3-pointer to give George Mason the lead for good with 1:02 left to play, as the Patriots snapped UVa's 14-year streak of winning season openers in a 63-59 decision in Fairfax on Friday night.
The sold out crowd at the Patriot Center got to see not only Mason's first-ever win over Virginia but a thrilling game that came down to the final 60 seconds.
That's when Allen buried the jumper from the right wing over the outstretched arm of freshman Justin Anderson, who did force a turnover shortly after and was fouled. But he missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 with 13.3 seconds remaining, all but ending UVa's chances.
Rightfully so it was Allen, who had 13 points in the win, who hit the final two free throws that sealed it with 2.1 seconds left.
It was a tough pill for fourth-year coach Tony Bennett and his young squad to swallow. Anderson was one of three freshmen, along with Mike Tobey and Taylor Barnette, to get their first starts, a first in school history. Anderson finished with 4 points and 3 boards and Barnette, called into action at point guard, had 5 points but no assists.
The Cavaliers, led by junior Joe Harris and his game-high 19 points, looked like they might have seized control of this back-and-forth game with 4:29 left. That's when he hit a pair of free throws and momentum seemed to be on UVa's side.
But as they did all night, the Patriots responded. They forced continuous pressure on UVa, especially on inbounds plays and they got into the lane for a Sherrod Wright three-point play with 3:11 left. Even though he missed the free throw, Mason got it back on the rebound.
UVa struggled to score, shooting 40.4 percent for the game compared to Mason's 54.5, a number that Bennett said was made worse because he thought several times, like on Allen's 3-pointer when the decibel level inside his 100, the Hoos played solid defense.
Bennett explained, "Late in the game, they made a couple of shots that we defended as best we could...But you're not going to beat a lot of people if you can't make them earn. Some of the shots they hit, were pretty contested."
Barnette and Harris, as well as walk-on Doug Browman, filled in at point guard with UVa missing senior Jontel Evans and sophomore combo guard Malcolm Brodgon due to injury as well as freshman Teven Jones due to suspension.
"Some of those turnovers were costly," Bennett said of his team's ball security. "We're having to play that position by committee and certainly our guys laid it on the line. They worked hard. But when you're in a game that close, a possesion-by-possession game, I don't know our young guys understand the value of a possession on the defensive end."
Bennett's club couldn't take advantage of a 8-of-19 night at the free-throw line by Mason or a 32 to 26 rebounding edge in favor of the Cavaliers. Bennett played his full allotment of healthy scholarship players with each of them, as well as Browman, having played 11 minutes or more.
Aside from Harris' 19-and-8, fellow junior Akil Mitchell had a career-high 11 points to go with 7 rebounds. But he was the only other Cavalier in double figures and Tobey, UVa's 6-foot-11 first-year who started at center, scored 5 points and was credited with just one board in 18 minutes of action.
Along with Allen's night, Mason also got 15 points from Wright and 11 from Johnny Williams as the Patriots had 14 assists to 10 turnovers.
"I can see the season going this way," Mitchell said. "We probably don't have the firepower we had last year with Mike (Scott) and we're not going to blow out teams. If a team is hitting tough shots like that, all night, then we've kind of got to live with that. But I felt like we had a few costly turnovers and some things we need to clean up."
Said Harris, "We learned a lot from this game, even though it's a loss."