Saint Louis might end up winning the Atlantic 10 title again, posting one of the nation’s best overall records and making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Along the way, though, the Billikens will have felt fortunate to endure two overtime thrillers against George Mason.
For the second time in three weeks, the Patriots put a mighty scare into the 10th-ranked Billikens before dropping an 89-85 decision Wednesday in Fairfax.
Saint Louis (24-2, 11-0) extended its winning streak to 18 and remained unbeaten in away games — but not without a struggle.
Sherrod Wright scored a career-high 34 points for the Patriots (9-17, 2-10), but Saint Louis guard Jordair Jett scored 24 of his 25 after halftime, including a tying free throw with nine-tenths of a second left in regulation. Jett also had eight assists and five rebounds.
“It was a great game,” said Wright, shaking his head. “We fought hard, they fought hard.”
The Patriots led by four early in the extra period, but 6-foot-11 center Rob Loe made consecutive three-pointers and Jett scored on the next two possessions as part of a 12-2 run. George Mason never had possession with a chance to tie in the last minute.
After 17 lead changes and 11 ties, Mike McCall’s free throws with 1.1 seconds left secured Saint Louis’s 10th consecutive road victory and stretched its league lead over Virginia Commonwealth to three games with five remaining.
The Billikens, in the Associated Press top 10 for the first time in 49 years, are enjoying their best conference start since 1947. Their losses have come to unbeaten and third-ranked Wichita State and No. 16 Wisconsin.
“Two overtime [games], so it’s not like we have any magic on those guys,” Billikens Coach Jim Crews said of the tight games with the Patriots. “We’re just fortunate.”
The Patriots have lost six straight in Fairfax, their longest home skid in 21 years. They are 14-14 in the past two seasons at Patriot Center after a 29-1 run from 2010 to 2012.
Despite their lowly place, the Patriots have caused problems for the front-runners. They won at Massachusetts and should have beaten the Minutemen in Fairfax; they lost by four to Saint Joseph’s; and three weeks ago, they let an upset slip away at Saint Louis.
In the rematch, the Patriots claimed a 35-32 halftime lead when Bryon Allen stole an inbounds pass and made a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
They built a seven-point lead in the second half before Jett took over. In one stretch, he scored 11 straight points. Wright (12 of 18 field goals) was even better, scoring 13 in a row for the Patriots down the stretch.
Wright converted a three-point play with 21 / 2 minutes left, but Jake Barnett answered with a three-pointer to restore Saint Louis’s lead. Wright’s fast break layup tied it with 1:43 remaining.
Loe hit a three-pointer with 50 seconds left, but Wright made a fadeaway jumper 16 seconds later to cut the deficit to one.
Jenkins made both free throws for a one-point lead, but Jett raced into the lane and was knocked on the arm by Jenkins with less than a second remaining. Jett missed the first free throw and made the second, forcing overtime in front of 4,057 spectators.
“I feel like we can beat the best,” Jenkins said. “When it comes down to the wire like this, it hurts a little bit more.”