Flames Chene Phillips
Looking for its fifth straight win, the Liberty men's basketball team played host to CAA member George Mason, Saturday night at the Vines Center. Unfortunately for the Flames, it was the Patriots who were able to keep their winning streak alive, taking the contest, 84-54, for their sixth consecutive victory. With the defeat, Liberty falls to 6-5 on the season, while George Mason improves to 8-2. George Mason's leading scorer on the season, Luke Hancock, put the Patriots on the board first with a jumper. Following another Patriots basket, Liberty's leading scorer and Hancock's former prep school teammate Evan Gordon netted the first pair of tallies for the Flames, hitting a jumper of his own to make it 4-2, George Mason, at 18:30. After the Patriots posted four unanswered markers to gain a six-point advantage, Liberty responded with a 5-0 burst to cut the deficit. Freshman John Caleb Sanders capped off the spurt, knocking down his 17th three-pointer of the season to reduce the Patriots' edge to one, 8-7 at 16:23. Twenty-three seconds later, George Mason distanced itself once again, thanks to a three-pointer by Cam Long. However, the Flames responded with six straight points off baskets from David Minaya, Jesse Sanders and John Brown to take their first lead of the contest, 13-11, with 13:59 remaining in the half. The Patriots knotted the contest, 13-13, 22 seconds later, but the Flames regained the upper hand at 13:18 with two Minaya free throws. Liberty remained on top until the 10:51 mark, when Vertail Vaughns connected on a jumper to put George Mason up, 20-19. The visitors continued to apply the pressure on both ends of the floor, allowing the Flames to score just seven points in the remainder of the half. George Mason's 32-7 surge over a span of 11:41 gave the Patriots a 48-26 lead at halftime. Vaughns led the Patriots at halftime with nine points, followed by teammate Andre Cornelius who had eight. Jesse Sanders was Liberty's leading scorer at the end of the opening stanza with eight points. George Mason concluded the first period with its best single-half shooting performance of the season, hitting 20-of-27 shots from the field (74.1 percent), while holding the Flames to 10-of-28 shooting (35.7 percent). In the opening minutes of the second half, Liberty prevented its guest from going on another hot streak. At 14:44, Gordon netted his first bucket since scoring Liberty's initial points in the contest, finding room underneath for a layup to cut the deficit to 21, 55-34. Gordon posted Liberty's next four points, connecting at the foul line for one and capitalizing on a traditional three-point play. Gordon's and-one cut the margin to 19, 57-38, at 12:25. Following a George Mason basket, John Caleb Sanders put the Flames within 18, knocking down a trey to put Liberty within 18 at 11:49, 59-41. The Patriots responded with four-straight points to increase their advantage to 22. John Caleb fired back once again, hitting his third three-pointer of the contest, but Ryan Pearson nullified the shot, sinking a long-range jumper of his own to maintain George Mason's advantage, 66-44. Following a Gordon jumper that cut the visitor's lead to 20, the Patriots proceeded to go on a 10-0 run. Gordon halted the burst at the foul line, hitting two shots with 4:24 remaining to make it 76-48. Each team tacked on a few baskets in the closing minutes, allowing George Mason to earn the 84-54 decision. George Mason's Pearson and Long finished with a game-high 16 points, respectively, followed by Hancock with 12. Jesse Sanders and Gordon concluded the contest with 12 tallies apiece to pace the Flames, followed by John Caleb Sanders, who chipped in 10. George Mason hit 33-of-55 shots (60.0 percent) from the floor in the contest, including 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) from three-point land. The Flames shot 39.6 percent from the field, hitting 19-of-48 attempts. The Flames remain in the Vines Center next Saturday, playing host to CAA member William & Mary. Tipoff with the Tribe is set for 7 p.m.