It also sounds like this: “We haven’t made a play all year when we needed it. That was the story of our entire season right there. We needed a play and we didn’t make it.”
George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt was breathing a deep sigh of relief Saturday evening at the Richmond Coliseum. Drexel Coach Bruiser Flint was shaking his head in frustration thinking about one last final play not made in a season gone wrong.
Hewitt headed back to his hotel to prepare to play a Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinal game on Sunday against top-seeded Northeastern. Flint headed back up I-95 to Philadelphia to start thinking about next year.
The CAA tournament isn’t always a lose-and-go-home event for everyone, but it is in this strange season, when only Northeastern knows it will play postseason basketball someplace if it doesn’t cut down the nets here on Monday night (as regular season champion, the Huskies are ensured of a bid to the National Invitation Tournament).
That’s why George Mason’s 60-54 victory over Drexel was more of a brawl than a basketball game. “An old-fashioned rock fight,” Towson Coach Pat Skerry said when it was over. “Fun to watch, not to coach.”
That Skerry was watching and not coaching this weekend is all part of the CAA’s strange saga this winter. Skerry was named the league’s coach of the year and Georgetown transfer Jerome Benimon was player of the year, and the Tigers pieced together the greatest turnaround season in NCAA history, going from one victory a year ago to 18 this year.
But poor academic performance prior to Skerry’s arrival made them ineligible for postseason play — including this tournament. The same thing happened to UNC Wilmington. Old Dominion and Georgia State both decided to bolt the conference because of football, and thus were inelgible to compete here. VCU abandoned ship last spring to join the soon-to-be-shrinking Atlantic 10.
When the dust finally cleared, the CAA was left with just seven teams eligible for its postseason tournament, meaning Northeastern received a bye into Sunday’s semifinals while the Patriots and Dragons were throwing rocks — and bricks — at one another. George Mason shot 38.3 percent — and won.
The Patriots won because leading scorer Sherrod Wright stopped settling for jump shots after scoring just five points in the first half and produced 18 in the second, mostly by attacking the lane every chance he got. They won because Bryon Allen was superb at both ends of the floor, scoring 16 points, coming up with six steals and making that key play — the one his team had been missing for most of the last two months — with the game on the line.
“Only took me a year and a half to figure out he should be playing on the wing,” Hewitt said, clearly only half-joking. “He’s been our best player for the last month.”