Earlier in the day, Patriots Coach Dave Paulsen had talked with the team about the election results in Georgia. It was part of a year-long effort by the coaching staff to engage the players in discussion about social justice and politics.
And then later Wednesday the group began to hear about the disturbances.
“It’s surreal and it’s disappointing. It’s disheartening,” Paulsen said. “You hope out of something really horrific — a terrorist attack on our government — we can respond and reassert democratic values.
“It was weird, but our guys wanted to play — have a little sense of normalcy in what is a crazy, crazy time just across the board.”
George Mason senior Javon Greene, a Georgia native who voted in Tuesday’s senate runoff election, said, “It was terrifying to see, especially as a Black man knowing what they did to us at the Black Lives Matter protests and how they let the Trump supporters come into the Capitol and do what they did. And for them not to do anything, that hurt me and the team.”
The son of a seven-term state senator in Pennsylvania, Rams Coach Mike Rhoades brought unique perspective.
“I was really disappointed. I was angry. I was upset. I was sad,” he said. “I mean, come on, this is our country.”
He said his father’s best advice was: “Sometimes you get your [butt] whooped; it doesn’t go your way and you’ve got to take your whooping and move on and get better. Man, what are we doing? We’ve got to teach our country better that sometimes you don’t win, and instead of crying about it … take it like a man, take it like a real person. You didn’t win this time.”
He turned his attention to his young team.
“I want us to really learn from it,” Rhoades said. “That is not how you handle defeat. We all get whooped. Let’s learn from it. Man, we can be so much better.”
The Patriots (5-4, 1-2 Atlantic 10) led by nine in the first half and one at intermission but shot 33 percent in the second period, fell and failed to stop the Rams from penetrating to the basket in falling behind by 15 points.
VCU (9-2, 2-0) has won five straight in Fairfax and 16 of the past 21 meetings overall. Sophomore Nah’Shon Hyland led the Rams with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Sophomore Josh Oduro paced the Patriots with 13 points and nine rebounds. Jordan Miller, George Mason’s leading scorer averaging 17.8 points, had six on 1-of-6 shooting. A.J. Wilson had 12 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots but missed the last 9½ minutes after suffering a head injury.
The Patriots got off to a bright start, but the Rams found their way and took the lead late in the first half. With time winding down, however, GMU’s Bahaïde Haïdara stole the ball at midcourt and beat the clock for a 32-31 lead.
The Rams established control after the break, piercing the Mason defense for easy baskets and forcing the hosts into turnovers and missed shots.
The Patriots’ problems were on peak display in a 30-second span when Haïdara missed two free throws, Hyland made a three-pointer and Tyler Kolek air-balled a three-point try.
Two additional VCU layups sandwiched around Mason’s sixth turnover of the half left the Rams with a 48-37 lead. The Patriots did not threaten again until the last two minutes.
In the second of three consecutive home games, the Patriots on Saturday will face Richmond, the A-10′s preseason favorite. The Rams will host Rhode Island.