RICHMOND | George Mason exorcized some past and present demons with a reliable option it no doubt will employ in the future.
Sherrod Wright’s 3-pointer at the buzzer Saturday capped the Patriots’ frantic rally past Richmond, securing a 67-64 victory at the Richmond Coliseum for a team desperate to avoid yet another close loss.
Mason (7-4) erased a 12-point deficit in the final eight minutes after trailing nearly the entire game.
“We were in the huddle saying ‘It’s a long game, there’s a lot of time left, anything can happen. Let’s keep on getting stops and we’ll get the win,’” Wright said. “I think the guys were very composed. That was just the leadership. We’ve been here before. You just have to be composed at all times.”
Yes, yes the Patriots have been here before, in more ways than one.
This is a bunch that squandered a five-point lead in the final 11 seconds in a loss to New Mexico. It briefly led Maryland in the BB&T Classic before fading. It fell in overtime to Northern Iowa.
Its record did not suggest a contender for an at-large NCAA tournament bid in a little less than three months. In truth, the unusual level weakness throughout the CAA ensures Mason will probably need a conference crown to earn an NCAA invite.
But the Patriots have yet to get run over, even if Richmond (9-4) threatened to do precisely that Saturday.
“We needed one,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “This was a huge, huge game for us. If we’d gotten to 6-5, even though I thought we were playing well, nobody wants to hear about close. Everyone wants to hear about the win. I was really afraid that New Mexico was going to be a hangover throughout the whole season, followed by Northern Iowa. It was really important for us to get one of these.”
And to do it here, where Mason’s most recent memory was spotting Virginia Commonwealth a 32-4 lead in March’s CAA semifinals?
“You have to remind me of that, huh?” Hewitt said with a smile.
Well, yeah. In fairness, Hewitt reminded the Patriots of that long March afternoon —- and Mason’s comeback to make things interesting in the closing minutes —- plenty enough during the offseason.
The Patriots will find themselves back in Richmond in March, needing two or three victories to complete their postseason push. VCU won’t await them, but there will be some good feelings when they return for the final CAA tournament in Virginia’s capital city for the foreseeable future.
“Northern Iowa was a great team, but we should have won,” Wright said. “Honestly, that’s how I feel, but they’re a great team and played well and beat us that night. For us to come here in the Coliseum where we have a bad history and beat a great team like Richmond is truly good. You can’t complain about that.”
Nor can Mason complain about its second half, when it cut out a few obvious shortcomings and simply allowed Wright to handle things from there.
The Spiders’ transition 3-pointers vanished. Richmond managed only three points off turnovers after the break. And forward Derrick Williams, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound bruiser with the ability to step outside and effectively hoist 3-pointers, scored only three of his 14 points after the break.
Without easy points and open looks to fuel its offense, Richmond hit only one shot from the floor in the final 7:36. And to cap Mason’s game-ending 18-3 spurt, Wright offered an option when point guard Corey Edwards was swarmed in the closing seconds.
He stepped up and made a long 3-pointer —- not quite as long as his Valentine’s Day buzzer-beater against VCU in Fairfax —- to hand the Patriots their most riveting victory of the season.
“My teammates have faith in me and the coaching staff has faith in me,” Wright said. “It’s just a shot I take every day.”
He’s done it in the past and present. With one swish in Mason’s house of horrors to lock down a decent victory after letting so many opportunities slip away already this season, there’s reason to think both Wright and the Patriots might have another bit of theatrics in them moving forward.
—- Patrick Stevens