Whatever momentum George Mason could generate last night, Coastal Carolina countered, staying one step ahead of the Patriots and winning, 66-65, before 2,163 at Patriot Center on Robert Dowdell's two free throws with four seconds left.
With a little over a minute and a half remaining, Mason's Mitch Madden tied the game at 62 after teammate Mike Hargett forced a turnover by swatting the ball away. Coastal Carolina's Brian Penny scored after rebounding his own miss with 55 seconds left. With 31 seconds to go, Robert Dykes's three-point play gave the Patriots (2-5) a 65-64 lead.
Then Coastal Carolina (5-1) let the clock wind down and Dowdell was fouled driving to the basket. After his foul shots, Mason was left with four seconds and couldn't get off a shot, dropping its fourth straight for its longest losing streak since the 1984-85 season.
"They never gave up. You've got to give them credit -- the second half was like a fight," said Dowdell, punching the air. "Like boxing, we went punch for punch until the end."
In the first half, Mason acted punch-drunk, going 10 for 32 from the field. Coastal Carolina wasn't much better (13-31) but it didn't have to be. For the game, Mason shot 34 percent, Coastal Carolina 37. Six minutes into the first half, Mason only managed four points.
At the halftime buzzer, Eddie LeSaine threw a ball from near half court and it fell, giving the Chanticleers a 40-33 halftime lead and blunting a short but inspiring George Mason spurt. In that spurt, Mason's Dykes battled through traffic and scored from underneath and Hargett rediscovered his three-point range, which he lost about a month ago and has been desperately searching for in the last three games.
Both teams had 47 rebounds, but, said Patriots Coach Ernie Nestor, Coastal Carolina's 31 defensive rebounds were telling.
"They're critical," he said. "We've got to block out. We didn't get the key rebounds."
Most of all, though, Mason could not contend with Coastal Carolina's scoring bursts. Up three points with six minutes left in the first half, Tony Dunkin, Ron Poll, and Dowdell combined for 11 points, extending a 25-22 lead to 37-28.
But Mason seemed to score mainly in spurts. In the second half, Byron Tucker, who had 28 points against East Tennessee, spurred an 18-6 run, bringing the Patriots to 56-52. Then things got miserable as the Patriots didn't score again until 5:02. Until then, Coastal Carolina added six points.
"When we get the lead, we can't stand prosperity," said Nestor. "We got down low a large number of times but we didn't convert the right number of shots."
Tucker led the scoring with 23 points, Hargett had 18 and Dykes had 17. For Coastal Carolina, Tony Dunkin had 16 points, and Dowdell and Penny each had 13.
"Other guys have got to step up. I don't think this team is as prepared as we thought we'd be to handle this schedule," said Nestor.