George Mason rallies at Northern Iowa in BracketBusters

Over the course of its nation-leading win streak, the George Mason men’s basketball team had never trailed entering the second half. On Saturday night in front of a national television audience, the Patriots overcame a hot-shooting Northern Iowa team, 77-71, eliminating a second-half double-digit deficit to extend their winning streak to 13 in a 77-71 victory.

Mason improved to 23-5 on the season while the Panthers fell to 19-10, as Mason notched its third victory as part of the Sears BracketBusters event.

Paced by a double-double by junior Ryan Pearson and 24 points from his classmate Andre Cornelius, the Patriots out-scored the Panthers by a 45-to-35 margin in the second half. Pearson finished with 21 points, 14 coming in the second half and including a 13-for-13 night at the charity stripe, and added a game-high 15 rebounds. Joining the junior duo in double figures was sophomore Luke Hancock who contributed 14 points. Kwadzo Ahelegbe led a trio of UNI double-digit scorers with 26 points.

Mason withstood a 3-point attack by the Panthers, as they scored 13 treys in the game including eight in the first half. The Patriots, though, rallied from being down 10 points to overtake the home team and held on for the victory.

After trailing early at 5-2, the Patriots mounted an 8-0 run to take the lead, 10-5, after Cornelius’s second 3-pointer of the game. The Panthers answered with eight in a row of their own, but Mason’s 11-0 run pushed the lead back to the Patriots at 21-13 with under 12 minutes left in the first half. Again the Panthers countered with eight straight to tie the score on a bucket by Dunham at the 8:36 mark. It stayed within one possession until the last of three consecutive 3-pointers by UNI made it 34-28 at the 3:38 mark, and the Panthers would continue to lead for the remainder of the half, including a 36-32 halftime advantage.

It was Mason’s first halftime deficit since Jan. 8 at Old Dominion, and just the sixth time all season. The Patriots were led by 13 points from Cornelius, while Ahelegbe had 10 to pace the Panthers, who were 8-of-14 from beyond the arc. Mason, meanwhile, shot 52 percent (13-25) from the field and won the rebound battle by a 15-10 margin.

A pair of 3-pointers by the Panthers opened the half and moved their advantage into double digits for the first time at 42-32. Mason cut the gap to 42-40 with an 8-0 run, and again got within a possession after a Cornelius trey made it 49-46 at the 10:19 mark. Mason would reach that again at 51-48, and after six straight from Pearson, it became a two-point game at 56-54. The teams swapped 3-pointers and the Patriots came back to tie it up at 61 on a flying layup by Cam Long at the 3:39 mark.

Mason took its first lead since the 8:17 mark in the first half as Cornelius hit a free throw, and a runner by Hancock inside two minutes made it 64-61. Ahelegbe hit a pair of free throws to cut it to one, but on the next possession, Long drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 67-63. Two more free throws by Pearson pushed it to a six-point game, and despite a furious rally by the Panthers, Mason was able to hold on for the victory.

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