Hoping to rebound from their first conference loss to Dayton on Thursday after a 5–0 start to A-10 play, Richmond experienced an eerily familiar fate against George Mason in an 82–77 loss on Sunday.
Coming out of a TV timeout with 14:05 remaining in the first half, Richmond finally unearthed a rhythm and effort that evaded them through the first six minutes. The uptick in defensive energy was palpable. The Spiders switched and trapped perfectly on several screens and denied every possible avenue to the rim.
Eventually, the ball was forced into the hands of Karmari Newman with two seconds left on the shot clock. Newman drained a 30-footer in the face of Richmond's Khwan Fore as the shot clock expired.
Such was the theme of the afternoon for the Spiders. Each time Richmond seemed to find its mojo, George Mason had a swift retort to their advances. Richmond had several impressive surges, including a 30–12 run to force a five-point game with 3:45 remaining. George Mason (13-6, 3-3 A-10) was ultimately able to hold on behind strong defense and foul shooting from Marquise Moore.
The Spiders were visibly out of rhythm for the majority of the first half, scoring just 12 points through the first nine minutes. Senior ShawnDre’ Jones was held to just four points in the first half, and the physicality of George Mason took Richmond out of the inside-out structure of their offense.
Yet, the source of the Spiders’ undoing was their defense. Richmond allowed a season-high 49 first-half points. As Jones noted post-game: “Our defense has been better. We cannot allow 49 points at halftime.”
The Spiders struggled mightily to match George Mason’s physicality. Without a true rim protector to deter them, George Mason was able to attack at will, scoring 46 points in the paint.
The losing effort was not without positive takeaways for the Spiders. T.J. Cline turned in another superstar-caliber performance with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. The Spiders received contributions from five different scorers in their 30–12 second half run, including two timely 3-pointers from freshman Nick Sherod, who finished with 12 points.
Richmond should still be pleased with its 5–2 start to conference play and its share of second place in the A-10. Richmond’s 5-0 start to conference play was its best since the 1997-98 season. The team has certainly shown, despite its two losses, that it will compete with any team in the conference.
Next up for the Spiders is a home game against Rhode Island at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night. Rhode Island (12-6, 4-2 A-10) has won each of the last three meetings against the Spiders and is just half a game back from Richmond in the A-10.
Contact sports writer Mike O'Connor at mike.oconnor