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George Mason hopes to build momentum off buzzer-beating win

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sherrod Wright will always have the midcourt mob and the surrounding bedlam.

He will always be credited for, as George Mason teammate Ryan Pearson described it, the "best Valentine's Day ever" for the Fairfax campus — "by far."

Should the Patriots win the CAA regular season, the sophomore will have played an undeniably large role.

But perhaps most importantly, he'll always have Tuesday and the 25-foot runner at the buzzer to stunningly cap Mason's 62-61 victory over Virginia Commonwealth.

"Everybody dreams of making a big-time shot to get a big win against your rivals," Wright said. "My dream came true today."

The instant upshot of Wright's late-night theatrics: Coach Paul Hewitt's Patriots (22-6, 14-2) remained tied with Drexel for first place in the CAA, casting the Rams (22-6, 13-3) back to third place with two conference contests to go.

Wright dribbled three times, just as he was told. He accounted for defender Rob Brandenberg, learning from a blocked shot in the first half. His shot was picture perfect, almost unbelievably so after darting half the length of the floor in about three seconds.

"He did all the things that you could ask him to do as a coach," Hewitt said. "Then he did more."

And there's still time for even greater feats - with Tuesday's impact potentially lingering for quite some time.

Wright was in the midst of a solid enough sophomore season, averaging 9.4 points while leading the CAA in free throw percentage entering the week. That was after missing all of last season following a preseason shoulder injury, a significant loss, even for a team that reached the NCAA tournament's round of 32.

In short, there were plenty of less-likely candidates to stun the Rams.

"It's not like he's some unknown player," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "He's a very good player."

As the Patriots' No. 2 scorer behind Pearson, it's not difficult to imagine Wright emerging as one of the program's most prominent faces in the next two years. Regardless of what else he does, one signature moment will be setting off one of the Patriot Center's greatest celebrations.

Of course, there's always the chance for more. And the knowledge Wright has already done it is of incalculable value to a Mason team facing a three-game CAA tournament grind next month to earn a repeat NCAA invitation.

The Patriots do not possess an overall profile likely to warrant at-large consideration. With a team capable of hitting three 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds - including Wright's game-winner - Tuesday could prove a welcome jolt for the rest of the season.

"It definitely emboldens them and makes them more confident," Hewitt said. "But more important, it makes our team more confident and get that belief to just keep playing and see what happens. I can't stress enough that's what our whole game plan was tonight because we knew these guys would make us play uneven at times.

"When you get a shot like that, it's easy to convince guys. Coaches always talk about, 'Keep playing to the end, stay ready,' all those cliche things. Today, those cliches came true."

So did Wright's big-game dreams, which might just become even bolder after swishing the shot of the season for Mason.

There's still Saturday's Bracket Buster meeting with Lamar and next week's conference trips to Northeastern and VCU. The CAA tournament in Richmond follows, with Mason assured of no worse than the No. 3 seed.

Wright is ready for it all, with Tuesday's magical memory sure to provide some emotional currency for some time to come.

"You have confidence to know you can make big shots and have confidence to take big shots," Wright said. "Having made one of those under your belt, you just know, 'Hey, when it's a big shot, a half-court shot, any type of shot, I want to take it.' "

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