The largest weekday crowd in George Mason history assembled Thursday in Fairfax to see the Patriots wrap up their first CAA regular season title since 1999.
Cam Long simply wanted to leave the Patriot Center with a flourish.
He made sure both groups left satisfied.
Long made consecutive 3-pointers in the middle of the second half, lead George Mason to a sometimes-sluggish 67-61 defeat of Northeastern.
Long had 13 points, nine rebounds and four steals and Ryan Pearson had 18 points and 15 rebounds for Mason (24-5, 15-2 CAA), which won a school-record 14th straight and will be the No. 1 seed in the March 4-7 conference tournament in Richmond.
Just as importantly, Long completed a perfect season at home in his final year with the Patriots despite some admitted anxiety.
“Yeaaaah, I’d have to say it did,” Long said sheepishly after winning his Patriot Center finale before 9,366. “Senior Night, everyone wants to go out big.”
Long wasn’t alone with his nerves. Mason allowed the cold-shooting Huskies (10-19, 5-12), who were playing without starting center Ryan Pierson (death in his family) to pull within five at halftime and eventually build a 42-37 lead.
The Patriots eventually tied it at 44, setting up the usually soft-spoken Long for 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to hand the lead to Mason permanently.
“One thing I never really did [before] was show emotion, and I think that’s because I had too much pressure on myself,” Long said. “With that and being able to let the pressure go and get more excited, I understand I love playing with these guys. I have to understand I can’t get upset about most things. When I knocked down those two shots, it was just relief.”
There was also so pleasure in seeing Mason finally run its offense. Northeastern dictated the pace throughout the first half, and both teams settled for shaky shots before the Patriots asserted themselves in the final 10 minutes.
Long’s second 3-pointer in the go-ahead sequence came off a kickout from an Andre Cornelius drive, a classic Mason play rarely seen early against the Huskies.
“That was really the first offensive possession when we looked like what we normally do,” coach Jim Larranaga said.
That, then, is perhaps the lone moderately problematic development from the night. Mason appears to safely be inside the 68-team NCAA tournament field a little more than a fortnight from Selection Sunday, and a bit of a scare on its home court probably won’t hurt.
it’s especially the case since Long authored the finish both he and the Patriots so coveted when they trailed in the second half.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘I wonder who’s going to step up and make a couple of big shots,” Larranaga said. “It’s been someone different. Cam it’s been a lot, but Andre Cornelius, Vertrail Vaughns, Ryan Pearson, Luke Hancock – it’s always somebody who seems to step up.”
So far, it’s netted Mason one coveted championship – and Long, as well as his teammates, plan to add to it in the weeks to come.