Ryan Pearson’s inbounds pass was intercepted at midcourt, leading to the Rams’ eighth three-pointer. On the ensuing possession, another giveaway turned into a layup, a 20-point deficit and, for all practical purposes, the Patriots’ second setback in four days, an 89-77 loss at crackling Siegel Center.
On the final weekend of the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular season, George Mason (23-8, 14-4) kept its poise for 10 minutes before succumbing to ferocious pressure. The Patriots did rally to within 11 points midway through the second half but couldn’t replicate the extraordinary comeback inflicted on the Rams 11 days earlier in Fairfax.
Although the Patriots are stumbling into the CAA tournament — and a possible semifinal meeting with VCU — “I don’t think it will be a concern,” said Pearson, who scored 24 points. “We’ve got a week to get ready. We’ve got a lot of practices ahead before the tournament, and I think we’re going to get it right there.”
Second-seeded VCU (25-6, 15-3) will face No. 7 Northeastern (13-16, 9-9) or No. 10 William & Mary (6-25, 4-14). First-place Drexel (25-5, 16-2), which has won 17 in a row, and No. 4 seed Old Dominion (19-12, 13-5) also earned byes.
After losing at Northeastern in overtime Wednesday, the Patriots were undone Saturday by 14 first-half turnovers and 20 overall, increasing a seven-game total to 127 (18.1 per outing). It offset one of their best shooting performances of the season (53.1 percent).
The Patriots also were bruised by VCU’s three-point shooting. The Rams made six of their first nine and 8 of 16 in the first half to build a 43-27 lead. Bradford Burgess and Troy Daniels made five three-pointers apiece overall, and Burgess finished with a career-high 31 points in his 141st consecutive start, one shy of the Division I record set by Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing from 1981 to 1985.
The Rams, who have won 14 of 15, drew inspiration from letting the first meeting slip from their grasp, culminating with a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Sherrod Wright.
They said they were also motivated by a pregame incident Saturday. Before the senior night ceremony honoring Burgess concluded, the Patriots took the court for warmups.
“We noticed it,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. “We fed off of it.”
The Rams turned to Daniels (17 points) for three three-pointers in the first four-plus minutes. After Burgess added a three-pointer for a nine-point advantage, George Mason answered with nine points in a row.
Burgess, however, stroked another three-pointer, and the Patriots committed several turnovers under full-court duress. The Rams took advantage with two layups, a dunk and Daniels’s fourth three-pointer to extend the lead to 12.
The early three-pointers “defined the game,” Daniels said.
For George Mason, the low point was Pearson’s inbounds pass that was intercepted and, in an instant, turned into Burgess’s three-pointer. Another turnover – part of five on six possessions — led to Darius Theus’s layup and a 41-21 margin.
“They are the type of team that’s going to have those runs,” Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt said. “You try to do your best to avoid them, but if you hang in there, you are going to give yourself a chance.”
The Patriots cut the deficit to 16 at the half and, after trailing by 23, made a 13-1 run to pull within 11. But Burgess nailed his fifth three-pointer and, over the last nine minutes, the teams combined to attempt 48 free throws. George Mason couldn’t get closer than 10.
“We were down so much, we kept clawing back, we didn’t give up,” Pearson said. “I liked the heart my team showed, and now we are getting ready for the CAA tournament.”