RICHMOND — For those familiar with George Mason basketball this season, nothing that unfolded during a cataclysmic afternoon at Richmond Coliseum on Sunday came as an enormous surprise. Forty minutes were more than enough to epitomize the Patriots, a team with enormous capability but terrible tendencies and no killer instinct.
As if predetermined, the Patriots relinquished a 24-point first-half lead in short order and then collapsed down the stretch of a 69-67 loss to Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals. The meltdown was reminiscent of a 20-point fade against Drexel on Jan. 31 and other ruinous games in an underachieving regular season.
Despite making all but four field goal attempts in the second half and shooting 63.4 percent overall, despite 13-0 and 31-7 leads, the fourth-seeded Patriots (18-14) found unfathomable ways to let a sure upset of the top-seeded Huskies (20-11) slip away.
Jonathan Lee’s driving layup with three seconds left completed George Mason’s downfall and sent the Huskies to their first CAA final Monday against third-seeded James Madison (19-14), which defeated No. 2 Delaware, 58-57.
“We were hoping we could hold on in the second half because we knew they would come back with a rush,” Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt said. “The game played out exactly the way we thought it would. I didn’t think we would lead by 24, but I thought we would come out of the first half with a lead.”
Despite the enormous margin, the lead evaporated in just 6½ minutes with a 26-2 run.
The Patriots did regain their stride but proceeded to blow an eight-point lead midway through the second half and then a six-point advantage with 2 minutes 50 seconds remaining.
During the latter, they did not attempt a shot: Four possessions and four turnovers, capped by Bryon Allen’s pass to Sherrod Wright that was stolen under the basket with 33 seconds to go.
Lee then beat Allen for the finishing touches on the Huskies’ third victory over the Patriots this season.
“I had a couple of looks but they were both denied, so I just put my head down and went to the basket,” Lee said. “It was a wide-open layup.”
Marko Gujanicic’s half-court heave at the buzzer struck high on the backboard.
Allen, a junior guard, and Gujanicic, a freshman forward, combined for 18 of the team’s last 22 points. Allen had a career-high 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.
Gujanicic’s layup, Allen’s three-point play and Jonathan Arledge’s basket had provided a 67-61 advantage, but Lee made two free throws.
Corey Edwards succumbed to pressure, leading to Quincy Ford’s foul shots. Gujanicic gave up the ball at midcourt, and after a Huskies missed layup, Wright lost the ball in a scramble.
The Patriots forced a bad shot by the Huskies but failed to corral the rebound, and when Ford scored inside with 57 seconds left, the game was tied. Allen penetrated effectively but, instead of shooting, tried to slip the ball to Wright – the last of 20 turnovers.
“We were so into the game at the beginning,” Arledge said. “They got it going.”
In the other game, Devon Moore’s free throws with 3.7 seconds left capped a game-ending 7-0 run for the Dukes, who advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1997.
Devon Saddler missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Moore had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Dukes, who were outrebounded 45-27 but forced 16 turnovers.
Blue Hens Coach Monte Ross was upset about an out-of-bounds violation against Jarvis Threatt with 11 seconds left as the Dukes were prepared to foul. “He didn’t step out of bounds,” Ross said, “and the ball wasn’t out of bounds.”