Mason rallies, clinches CAA
The George Mason men’s basketball team trailed by five in the second half, but as they have done more often recently than any team in the country, the Patriots found a way to win in a 67-61 victory over Northeastern on Thursday night before 9,366 fans in the home finale. The win, Mason’s 14th-straight, gives the Patriots sole ownership of the Colonial Athletic Association regular season title and ensures the top seed in next week’s conference tournament.
The victory also gave Mason (24-5, 15-2 CAA) a perfect 14-0 record at home this season, the second time in school history and second time in the last three seasons the Patriots have done so. The Huskies fell to 10-19 and 5-12 in league play.
Leading the way with his second-straight double-double was junior Ryan Pearson, who had game highs of 18 points and 15 rebounds. In the first half, Pearson became just the 15th Mason player to register 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career, and is the newest member of Mason’s 31-person 1,000-point club. Joining him in double figures was senior Cam Long with 13 points and nine rebounds while redshirt freshman Vertrail Vaughns had 11 points. Jonathan Lee had 18 points while Chaisson Allen scored 14 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Huskies.
Mason captured the CAA regular season crown for the first time since the 2005-06 season when it shared the title with UNC Wilmington, and the Patriots earned their first outright title in 11 seasons. The win was accomplished on the final home game for seniors Long and Isaiah Tate, and they were greeted by the largest weeknight home crowd in program history.
Northeastern jumped out to an early 4-0 lead as the Patriots missed their first seven field goal attempts. Tate ended the drought with a 3-pointer from the left corner. Morrison’s layup at the 14:54 mark gave Mason its first lead of the game, part of a 9-0 run which saw the Huskies go cold on six straight trips down the floor and a larger 12-2 run that pushed the lead to six. Mason put together a run of five straight points to go up by eight late in the first half, which would stand as their largest lead of the opening period as a last-second 3-pointer by Jonathan Lee set the halftime score of 27-22.
Mason, which continued its streak of a halftime advantage at every home game this season, was led by eight points and nine rebounds from Pearson. Allen and Lee had seven points each to pace the Huskies, who were out-shot by a 38.5-to-25 percent margin from the field.
Five straight Husky points began the second half and erased the Patriots’ lead, but a pair of free throws by Long stopped the run at the 18:24 mark. An alley-oop layup by Morrison expanded the gap to four, but the Huskies would come back to take the first lead by a Mason opponent in the second half in Fairfax at the 13:20 mark on a 3-pointer by Joel Smith, 39-37. Another Smith trey gave the Huskies their largest lead at five, but Mason came back to tie it at 44 on a putback by Long.
Long’s 3-pointer sent the lead back to Mason, part of a 13-2 run which saw the senior score eight in a row and the Patriots went on to lead by eight twice before a Pearson 3-point play made the score 58-49 with under five minutes left to play. Pearson hit two more free throws to match that margin at 60-51 with just over three minutes remaining and inside of two minutes, it was 62-53 after a Pearson lay-in. The nine-point difference would prove to be the Patriots’ largest lead of the game, but they held off the Huskies in the final moments to capture the win.