Patrick Holloway dribbled frantically to the left side of the three-point arc in the closing seconds Friday night with an opportunity to sustain George Mason’s quest for a season-ending victory in the College Basketball Invitational. The freshman guard elevated, released the shot and watched as the ball glanced off the rim before he collapsed on the court and covered his face with both hands.
The miss at the buzzer allowed Santa Clara to escape, 80-77, in the rubber match of the best-of-three series to decide the CBI title at Patriot Center, where George Mason forged a seven-point lead early in the second half that had the announced crowd of 2,440 at attention in the school’s first championship game of any kind since the 2008 CAA final.
But instead of cutting down the nets on their home floor, Patriots players were left to lament another in a series of blown leads that resulted in defeat by a narrow margin. George Mason (22-16) dropped its ninth game by three points or fewer and is 3-11 when allowing at least 70 points.
George Mason’s Sherrod Wright had 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting and added 10 rebounds. The junior guard made 5 of 6 shots in the second half, when he scored 14 points.
Junior forward Jonathan Arledge chipped in 16 points and seven rebounds for the Patriots, who played their final game as a member of the CAA. Next season George Mason joins the Atlantic 10.
“This is obviously a disappointing ending, but we got a lot out of this event,” Patriots Coach Paul Hewitt said. “I think it’s going to help us an awful lot moving forward to next year. I have to see the film, but Patrick looked like he had a pretty clean look at it. It’s a tough shot. It wasn’t a real high percentage shot. We were lucky an 80 percent free throw shooter missed the free throw and gave us a chance.”
George Mason’s second-year coach was referring to senior guard Kevin Foster, whose 24 points included a three-pointer from the right wing with 1 minute 11 seconds to play that gave Santa Clara a 75-73 lead. Both teams missed three-pointers moments later, and after the Patriots’ Vertrail Vaughns drew a foul chasing a loose ball, the junior guard was standing at the foul line shooting one-and-one.
Vaughns made the first but missed the bonus, and Raymond Cowels III grabbed the rebound for Santa Clara. George Mason junior guard Bryon Allen fouled Evan Roquemore seconds later, and the junior guard converted both ends of a one-and-one for a 77-74 margin.
The Patriots got within one on their next possession when Allen inbounded to Arledge and got it back while cutting to the basket around a screen. Allen got deep in the lane for a layup, and Hewitt called timeout with 11 seconds to play.
Three seconds later, Roquemore was at the free throw line, where he made both shots to cap a perfect night of foul shooting (7 for 7). Wright inbounded for George Mason, received the ball back from Arledge and headed for the basket before getting fouled with 4.6 seconds to go. His first free throw missed, and his second went in off the glass.
Foster then made the front end of two foul shots with 4.1 seconds remaining for the final points in a game where George Mason dominated rebounding, 46-30, including 20-7 offensively, owned a 27-7 advantage in second-chance points, 36-26 in points in the paint and 15-8 in bench points.
The Broncos (26-12), meantime, shot 62 percent in the second half and made 9 of 10 foul shots after the break. They also committed only five of their 11 turnovers in the second half. George Mason finished with 16 turnovers, two and a half above its average this season.
“There’s going to be a bunch of veteran guys,” Wright said about next season. “We learned from this experience, and hopefully it’ll carry over to next year. This experience, learning how to fight through tough times and fight through adversity, that’s it.”