AMHERST — The high point for George Mason basketball coach Dave Paulsen was visiting with a contingent of Williams alumni and friends from Williamstown. Other than that, it wasn't the happiest of homecomings for the former Eph head coach.
Paulsen's George Mason Patriots made it interesting Sunday afternoon at the Mullins Center. The University of Massachusetts led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but saw its lead cut to four with 1:52 left. But the Minutemen went 6 for 6 from the foul line in the last 38 seconds to secure a 70-64 Atlantic 10 Conference win.
"This is two games in a row when we just were not ready at the beginning," said Paulsen. "We are not a good offensive team. We haven't been all year. We're the worst-shooting, 3-point team in the conference, and that's not what I like to be.
"We have to learn how to scratch, claw and grind out wins. We allowed missing open jump shots in the first half to dictate our intensity and our defensive energy."
UMass (12-14, 5-9 in the Atlantic 10) was led by Jabarie Hinds, who had a game-high 17 points. Antwan Space had 15 points before fouling out late in the second half and Trey Davis had 16 — 12 in the first half.
"It was nice to see us battle through a bit of adversity and still come away with a win," UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. "I thought they did a nice job of making a push there in the second half. They got the ball inside and started hitting us pretty good on the boards.
"I thought we responded, which is a good sign."
Paulsen's wife Kathy and daughter Molly were in attendance, along with former Williams basketball coach and athletic director Harry Sheehy and his wife Connie. Sheehy recruited Paulsen as a player and then hired him when Sheehy moved up to athletic director. Ben Coffin, the center on Paulsen's 2003 national championship team, was also in attendance. They, along with a crew from Williamstown, got to see Paulsen after the game.
That crew almost got to see a comeback victory.
The Minutemen led 36-22 at halftime after George Mason made only 9-of-31 shots from the floor and were 0 for 10 from behind the 3-point arc.
DeAndre Abram's dunk with 14:32 left in the game had cut a 13-point UMass lead to eight at 44-36. It was the first single-digit lead for the Minutemen since it was 17-10 midway through the first half.
But each time George Mason got close, UMass pulled away a bit. Twice down the stretch, George Mason cut UMass' lead to three points, the last time coming on a jumper by Jaire Grayer with 2:32 left. From there, the Minutemen outscored the Patriots 8-3 and held Paulsen's team without a basket until Otis Livingston II scored on a layup with 11 seconds left. That, however, made it 68-62 and that was too much for George Mason to come back from.
"I think the guys have stayed the course, and we have had some pretty good practices leading up the last couple of weeks of the season," said Kellogg. "Hopefully,we can continue to play well and make a good push here coming down the stretch."
Paulsen's Patriots (9-18, 3-11) were coming off a stretch where they beat Davidson by a point and lost in overtime to Saint Louis. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games.
"I don't know if it's been the hardest [challenge], but it's been hard. It's taken way longer to install our culture. It's still not there," said Paulsen, in his first year at George Mason, after successful runs at Williams and Bucknell.
"It's better than it was," he said. "We're really young. We start three freshmen and played five freshmen [today]. It's an unforgiving league. That's the other part of it."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.