RICHMOND — Ryan Pearson, the Colonial Athletic Association’s player of the year, had fouled out after an unproductive evening. Mike Morrison, George Mason’s most influential player in Saturday’s tournament quarterfinal against Georgia State, was also gone.
So with the score tied and the shot clock and game clock nearing zeroes, the Patriots needed someone to rescue their teetering cause. Sophomore point guard Bryon Allen took the initiative.
Allen tossed in a reverse layup with 3.4 seconds left, lifting the third-seeded Patriots to a 61-59 victory over the No. 6 Panthers and setting up a third meeting in three weeks with Virginia Commonwealth.
“As soon as we got in the locker room, we said, ‘Now we get the matchup that we are looking for again,’ ” said Morrison, a senior forward who had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. “It’s a great rivalry. We’re definitely ready to play them again.”
The teams split the regular season series and will play each other in the CAA tournament for the fourth consecutive season. VCU eliminated George Mason the previous three years.
Before they began to look ahead, the Patriots savored another nervy victory in a season full of close games.
The Panthers (21-11) had tied the score on James Fields’s breakaway layup with 38 seconds left. After calling a timeout with 18 seconds to go, the Patriots allowed Allen to operate on the perimeter before driving toward the basket.
Panthers center Eric Buckner, the CAA’s shot-blocking leader, was waiting. But Allen used the rim as a shield, ducking under and tossing up a high shot that dropped through the rim.
“I saw Buckner on me, I was like, ‘All right, five seconds on the shot clock, I’ve got to get it on the rim.’ Luckily it went in,” Allen said.
Although Pearson sat out most of the second half with foul trouble and finished with just four points and two rebounds, the Patriots executed a 12-3 run to claim a six-point lead with seven minutes remaining.
The Panthers trimmed the margin to one, but with 2:40 left and the shot clock about to expire, Patriots guard Andre Cornelius made a three-pointer. Later, after Pearson and Morrison fouled out, Georgia State’s Devonta White made two free throws, cutting it to 59-57, and the Patriots botched their next possession, leading to Fields’s layup.
With two key seniors on the bench, Allen said he embraced the need to lead. “In the last minute, with all underclassmen on the court, we knew it was our seniors’ last go-around, we were trying to get them a victory and win the game for them,” he said.
The Patriots trailed by 11 in the first half. Morrison and Sherrod Wright (10 second-half points) inspired the recovery, but the Patriots weren’t able to pull away.
“We’ve had a lot of close games, but this one was much different,” Morrison said. “With me and Ryan both out and knowing you have to depend on your team, on the sideline, my head was just going crazy.”
●VCU 75, NORTHEASTERN 65: Despite a 7½-minute scoreless stretch and atrocious free throw shooting, the Rams smashed open a tight game with the No. 7 Huskies (14-17) to win for the 15th time in 16 games. The Rams were almost as accurate on three-pointers (9 of 20) as free throws (14 of 31).
●DREXEL 59, UNC WILMINGTON 47: Utilizing their girth and efficiency, the Dragons (26-5) wore down the No. 9 Seahawks (10-21). Drexel committed two turnovers in the first 35 minutes (six overall) and prevented UNCW’s Keith Rendleman, the CAA’s second-leading rebounder at 10.4 per game, from gathering any over his 34 minutes.
●ODU 88, DELAWARE 74: Kent Bazemore had 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists as the two-time defending champions (20-12) had five players score in double figures to overwhelm the No. 5 Blue Hens (18-13).