George Mason led for 36 minutes of game time and answered every Nebraska charge in the second half before pulling away for an 85-66 win Tuesday in the semifinals of the Cayman Islands Classic.
Nebraska, which trailed by 15 early in the second half, got within eight on Cam Mack's three-pointer with 6:06 left, but made just one field goal the rest of the way in George Town, Cayman Islands.
The Huskers were outrebounded 49-26, and didn't pull down their first rebound until the 13:39 mark of the first half. NU led only twice — at 3-2 and 16-14. George Mason led for almost all of the game's final 30 minutes.
“We got off to a poor start, obviously didn’t handle their pressure very well and turnovers early led to easy baskets,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said during his postgame interview on the Husker Sports Network. “I thought we had a really good stretch where we fought back and brought it even, and unfortunately allowed them to finish off the half on a big run.”
Still, NU was able to hang around. A Thorir Thorbjarnarson layup with 11:13 left in regulation pulled the Huskers within six before George Mason answered with back-to-back three-pointers. Later, a Mack layup with 7:49 to go got the Huskers within 67-60. That was as close as NU got the rest of the way.
“We did take the momentum back,” Hoiberg said. “I’m proud of the way the guys fought and dug in and handled the pressure and got good shots on the backside. We had a really good stretch of offense there in the second half but just could not get the stop when we needed it.”
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Nebraska essentially traded buckets with George Mason until the offense dried up down the stretch.
Dachon Burke scored Nebraska's first 12 points, then didn't score again until getting a steal and a dunk to end the game. He led NU with 14 points.
Haanif Cheatham added 13 points, while Kevin Cross came off the bench to score all 11 of his points in the second half on 4-for-8 shooting to go with five rebounds. Matej Kavas also scored 10 points.
Jamal Hartwell led George Mason (7-1) with 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including five three-pointers. Jordan Miller scored 20 points for the Patriots on 7-for-11 shooting.
And for the fifth time in six games Nebraska allowed an opposing player to get double-digit rebounds as AJ Wilson finished with 14 boards to go with eight points and five blocked shots.
Added Hoiberg: “It’s just kind of the same old story of when adversity hits, how are you going to handle it? I thought our guys hung their heads. … You’ve got to find a way to dig in and get a big stop at the end when you need it to hopefully get over the hump.”
Nebraska will take on South Florida at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the tournament's third-place game.
“This can still be a good trip for us if we walk out of here 2-1," Hoiberg said. "But it’s going to take a better effort tomorrow; better than we had tonight."
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