There is no such thing as a lighthearted affair between George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, and in a pivotal Colonial Athletic Association game Tuesday night, they were at it again. Only this time, they provided an extraordinary ending.
Sophomore guard Sherrod Wright raced up the court and made a buzzer-beating three-pointer, capping a stirring comeback in the last minute and giving the Patriots a 62-61 victory over their archrivals in front of 6,734 in Fairfax.
“I made the shot of my dreams,” he said.
While Wright’s teammates stormed him a few steps from where he launched the shot, Coach Paul Hewitt turned toward the crowd behind the bench and mouthed “wow” over and over again.
With the victory, the Patriots (22-6, 14-2) retained a share of first place with two conference games remaining. They ended an 11-game winning streak by the Rams (22-6, 13-3) and extended their unbeaten run in CAA home games to 18.
The teams will meet again in the regular season finale Feb. 25 at Siegel Center, then head into the CAA tournament a week later in Richmond.
Drexel (22-5 overall) kept pace with the Patriots on Tuesday, warding off William & Mary, 63-61, for its 14th consecutive victory.
“I still can’t believe it,” Hewitt said. “I hope my wife isn’t reading this, but this is the best Valentine’s Day I had.”
Wright’s shot also completed a dazzling 77 seconds: The teams combined for four three-pointers and 21 points. The Rams made 7 of 8 free throws in that stretch.
Bradford Burgess’s three-pointer for VCU broke a 51-all tie with 1:17 left. Bryon Allen missed badly and VCU’s Briante Weber hit two free throws. Ryan Pearson made a three-pointer for the Patriots with 29 seconds to go, cutting George Mason’s deficit to two.
VCU’s Troy Daniels made two free throws with 21 seconds remaining, but Vaughn Gray answered with a jumper. Weber added two free throws with 10 seconds left for a four-point lead, but Vertrail Vaughns made a three-pointer at 4.2 seconds.
Weber converted 1 of 2 free throws with 3.8 seconds to go, setting up Wright’s heroics.
With no timeouts left, Pearson inbounded from under the basket.
“I was trying to get the ball into Bryon’s hands,” said Pearson, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds. “He was totally denied. I pump-faked the pass and was almost falling over the line.”
Sensing trouble, Wright came back to help.
“I kept looking at the clock and thinking it’s a little too much,” Rams Coach Shaka Smart said. “I wish it was 2.8 or 1.8, because a good player can go the length of the floor and get a good shot off.”
The Patriots have practiced for such situations, with Hewitt preaching that a player shouldn’t panic and take a few dribbles.
“I yelled out to Sherrod and Bryon, ‘You’ve got three dribbles to use,’ ” Hewitt said. “That’s the only scientific thing about that. The rest is Sherrod.”
VCU’s Rob Brandenberg, who blocked one of Wright’s attempts earlier in the game, stayed close to the Patriots hero. But Wright pulled up about 25 feet away and swished the shot.
“As he’s going down the court, I am just trailing, I’m just looking at him,” Pearson said. “As he rises up to shoot, I am just watching the shot, standing there. I’m just like, ‘Wow, if this goes in, this place is going to go crazy.’ ”
Vaughns finished with four three-pointers and 14 points and Wright, a reserve, had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Beset with turnovers and poor shooting, the Patriots trailed most of the first half before claiming a 28-27 lead at intermission.
VCU led 44-36 midway through the second half when the Patriots used an 11-0 run to go back ahead. Later, Burgess’s three-pointer and the Rams’ free throw shooting appeared to seal it, but the Patriots were unrelenting.
Said Hewitt: “The only thing we talked about was: ‘Let’s not drop our heads for any reason. Nothing negative, keep playing, be there at the end. Just be there at the end.’ ”