As the saying goes, you can't coach size, but Old Dominion has gotten quite accustomed to winning with it.
Senior forward Frank Hassell had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Monarchs scored 23 second-chance points in a 69-65 win against George Mason on Saturday that gave coach Blaine Taylor his 200th win at ODU.
The Monarchs, picked to repeat as Colonial Athletic Association champions, improved to 12-3 and 3-1 in the league, while the Patriots, picked second, fell to 10-5 and 2-2 after Andre Cornelius missed an open 3-point look with four seconds to play and Mason down by two.
"We just realized we were bigger than them in the post, and we were going to get the ball to the paint, either on the drive or the post-up," said the 6-foot-9 Hassell, who scored 14 points in the second half and eight in the final 4:30. " … You always get hyped up down the stretch when it's a close game. Everybody wants to make that play and everybody wants the ball."
Hassell made an inside bucket after Mason cut the lead to 63-62 with 2:45 to play and another after Cam Long's 3-pointer tied the game at 65 with 1:50 remaining. He was fouled on both shots and missed each free throw, but iced the game from the line after rebounding Cornelius' miss.
"(At) 260 (pounds), he's going to wear guys down," said 6-5 junior guard Kent Bazemore, one of three other Monarchs in double digits with 13 points. "That was our emphasis this year, getting him in shape long enough to wear other guys down instead of him getting worn out. If a guy 260 is leaning on you all night, at the end of the night, he's going to have his way."
Junior forward Chris Cooper, 6-9 and 230 pounds, added nine points.
ODU shot 53.6 percent in the second half and scored 46 points in the paint, though its rebounding edge – at an average of almost 12 boards per game – was just 35-31.
"We only lost the (rebound) battle by four," Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. "It seemed like 24. Quite frankly, they're just bigger. They keep those guys in and around the basket, and they go very, very hard on the boards."
The Patriots, who last won at the Constant Center in the final game of the 2003-04 regular season, took a 45-44 lead early in the second half, but the Monarchs opened up a 54-47 advantage with 8:42 to play. Senior guard Darius James hit a one-handed runner, Hassell banked a hook off the glass, Ben Finney hit a floater and Bazemore elevated from inside the free-throw line.
Mason battled back, pulling within 63-32 on a 3-pointer from Cornelius and tying the game at 65 when Long, who had a game-high 23 points, made the fourth of his four 3-point attempts.
The Monarchs countered by finding Hassell on the low block and led 67-65 when Cornelius' open look from the right wing came up short.
Larranaga, who called a timeout with 19.8 seconds left, knew his team's last shot would come from the outside.
"We don't have the kind of back-to-the-basket team size and back-to-the-basket scoring where we could've just moved the ball around and dumped it inside like they do," Larranaga said. "I know (Cornelius) is distraught about missing it.
" … We were one 3-pointer away from having a hell of a victory."
The game featured an odd sequence when Morrison, fouled on a rebound with 4:50 to play, airballed his first free throw, then headed to the bench. Larranaga said Morrison, a 44 percent free-throw shooter, was hit on the funny bone, and his arm was numb.
The Monarchs chose Ryan Pearson, a 65.7 percent free-throw shooter, to take the second shot, which he made to make it a 59-55 ODU lead.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun