A lack of rebounding mixed with domination by George Mason’s three guards made a recipe for disaster for Nebraska in a 85-66 loss in the semifinals of the Cayman Islands Classic on Tuesday night.
Junior guard Dachon Burke scored Nebraska’s first 12 points of the game, but would score just two more after. Senior guards Haanif Cheatham and Matej Kavas and freshman forward Kevin Cross also scored 10 or more points, but George Mason’s guard trio of Jamal Hartwell II, Jordan Miller and Javon Greene combined to shoot 22-43 and 9-20 from 3-point range for 60 points.
Hartwell led all scorers with 23 points.
Rebounding has been anything but Nebraska’s strong suit this season, and the Patriots took full advantage on Tuesday night. They out-rebounded the Huskers 49-26 and scored 17 points off of 15 offensive rebounds.
The Patriots played with an edge from the opening tip, but Burke’s hot shooting kept the game close for most of the first half. George Mason quickly jumped out to a 12-5 lead, but a jumper, layup and 3-pointer by Burke pulled Nebraska within two before a layup by Kavas tied the game at 14.
A fastbreak layup by junior guard Jervay Green gave Nebraska a 16-14 lead almost halfway through the first half, which would be the last lead of the night for the Huskers. Hartwell immediately responded with a 3-pointer, and after a Burke miss, Greene drained a 3-pointer of his own.
The Huskers pulled within four and five points over the rest of the first half, but the Patriots responded with a 3-pointer both times. At the half, George Mason led 37-28. Nebraska shot 9-28, with a press by George Mason forcing 11 turnovers in the half.
In the second half, both teams had a much easier time shooting. Over the first four minutes of the half, George Mason’s three guards helped the Patriots increase their lead to 47-33, but Nebraska had an answer. Cross responded with five unanswered points before a 3-pointer from Cheatham made it a six-point game with 15 minutes left.
George Mason had a quick response, with Goanar Mar making a runner and Hartwell burying a 3-pointer. With just over 11 minutes to go, junior forward Thorir Thorbjarnarson scored his only two points of the night on a layup to pull Nebraska within six again, but once again Hartwell and Mar responded with back-to-back 3-pointers.
Nebraska had one final push, this time from junior point guard Cam Mack. Mack, who was scoreless for the first 30 minutes of the game, scored seven straight for the Huskers to make it an eight-point game with six minutes left. George Mason immediately countered with a runner and three made free throws.
Over the final five minutes, it was all George Mason. The Patriots blew the game wide open with a 14-1 run that lasted until the final minute. By the time the final horn sounded, it was mostly subs in the game.
Over the course of the second half, George Mason shot 61 percent from the field and made 7-12 3-point attempts. After the abysmal first half, the Huskers rebounded by shooting 15-33 from the field in the second half.
With the win, George Mason advances to face New Mexico State in the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic on Wednesday night. Nebraska will face South Florida in the third-place game at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. The Bulls won their opening round matchup against Loyola Chicago 66-55 before falling against New Mexico State by a score of 65-45.
Nebraska’s game against South Florida can be seen on FloSports, which requires a paid subscription.