WASHINGTON - George Washington recorded its first conference victory of a rebuilding season Wednesday at Smith Center, while George Mason suffered a pair of stinging setbacks.
After three near-misses in the Atlantic 10, the Colonials took command late in the first half and rode the play of senior guard Armel Potter to defeat the Patriots, 73-67.
The victory ended a four-game losing streak in the series and further dampened the mood of the visitors, who learned earlier that guard Justin Kier, the team's most important player and only senior in the rotation, might miss the rest of the season after re-injuring his right foot in practice.
Kier, the A-10's most improved player last season, is scheduled to have surgery Friday for a fracture.
The athletic department did not provide a timetable for recovery. However, the best-case scenario is the last week of the regular season or the Atlantic 10 tournament March 11-15.
Coach Dave Paulsen is also looking into the possibility of a medical redshirt, though it's unclear whether he would be eligible to return next season.
"I am absolutely heartbroken for Justin," Paulsen said. "To reinjure his foot at this time doesn't seem fair."
Kier missed the first six games after suffering a stress fracture in preseason.
The latest injury is a major blow to a young team that won 11 of its first 12 games for the program's best start in 36 years and was beginning to find its place in an improved league.
George Mason had taken a conservative approach after Kier's initial injury; he did not undergo surgery and was careful not to rush back. There was a concern, however, he could suffer another setback.
Paulsen gradually increased his playing time, and Kier had 18 points in Saturday's victory at La Salle.
Without him Wednesday, the Patriots (12-5, 1-3) lacked direction and never recovered from GW's 13-2 run to end the first half. The Colonials (7-10, 1-3) snapped a four-game losing streak overall and had the answers after five-point losses to St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Duquesne.
"I didn't even know we had lost a few games in a row," first-year coach Jamion Christian said. "The way I operate and the way I am trying to help these guys operate is not to be based on results. To be based on effort and how much we are learning and growing every single day."
Potter led the way with a season-high 26 points, plus seven assists and six rebounds. Freshman Jamison Battle made five 3-pointers during a decisive eight-minute stretch bridging halftime and finished with 15 points.
Potter credited his coaches and teammates for encouraging him to drive to the basket.
"Even when I got it blocked, they were like, 'Man, keep going to the rim, keep being aggressive,' " he said. "I kept hearing that in my ear so I am just like, "Alright, go.' I had 'go' in my mind the whole game."
A.J. Wilson, who began the day third in the nation in blocked shots, powered the Patriots with 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. The guards, however, combined to shoot 13 of 42.
The Colonials compensated for 15 turnovers by shooting 49 percent, while the Patriots finished at 38 percent.
George Mason led by five in the first half when GW roared ahead, thanks in large part to two 3-pointers by Battle and one by Maceo Jack.
Paulsen said, "We gave up three 3s to guys that we had unequivocally, clearly, emphatically stated do not let them shoot."
The Colonials turned a six-point halftime lead into a 14-point advantage with about 11 minutes left. The final score was as close as the Patriots got in the second half as the Colonials held their ground and, until the last 64 seconds, made all their second-half free throws (17 of 23 overall).
While the visitors seemed lost at times, the Colonials showed poise and maturity.
"I just make sure I continue to preach to younger guys how hard it is to win," Potter said of a squad that started three freshmen and was without injured senior Arnaldo Toro, GW's leading rebounder. "We have to pay attention to all the little details, and we did that in the second half and closed out the game."