Winning streaks, broken records, second-half comebacks and Senior Night. All capped off by a lap through the student section for the George Mason men’s basketball team, which extended its nation-high winning streak to 14 games with a 67-61 win over Northeastern on Thursday night.
The Patriots, which improved to 24-5 overall and 15-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association, used an eight-point burst by guard Cam Long midway through the second half to help overcome its first second-half deficit at home this season. The comeback came on a night in which George Mason honored Long and fellow senior Isaiah Tate in front of 9,366 at the Patriot Center, the largest weekday crowd in program history.
With the win, the Patriots finished unbeaten at home for the second time in three years and clinched the regular season CAA championship for the first time since 2005-06, a season that concluded with their run to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
“These streaks basically represent all the hard work these guys have put in since August,” said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, who credits much of his team’s cohesiveness to a 10-day trip to Italy last summer. “We just became a much better team during that trip, and it’s carried over. They’ve overcome adversity both at home and on the road.”
On Thursday, that adversity came when George Mason found itself down 42-37 after Northeastern’s Jonathan Lee hit a 3-pointer with 12 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the game. But, as was the case when they were behind by double-digits in the second half at Northern Iowa on Saturday, the Patriots did not panic, choosing instead to turn to Long and junior forward Ryan Pearson, their top two scorers.
Down 44-42, Long hit two free throws with 9:48 to play and then hit back-to-back 3-pointers on George Mason’s next two possessions to ignite the near-sellout crowd and steal back the momentum. The shots could not have come at a better time, much like his 3-pointer that put the Patriots up by four with 1:20 remaining in Saturday’s win in the ESPN BracketBuster game in Iowa.
As was also the case on Saturday, the Patriots would not trail after that point.
“When I knocked down those two shots, it was a relief, said Long, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. “I was able to hit a big shot against Northern Iowa, and then able to hit a couple tonight … I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
Pearson, who picked up his sixth double-double of the season with 18 points and 15 rebounds, would score eight points down the stretch. The junior, who picked up his third CAA player of the week honor last week and on Thursday became just the 15th player in school history to reach 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, has now reached double-figures in all but one of the Patriots’ games.
“It was Senior Night and everyone wanted to go out big,” Long said. “To come out there in that atmosphere, I can definitely say I was a little anxious.
“Close games are always going to happen. You can’t fold under pressure. When they took that lead, I don’t think our composure went down. We came more together.”
Northeastern (10-19, 5-12), which entered having won six of nine after a 5-14 start to their season, were paced by 18 points by Lee and 14 points and 12 rebounds by Chaisson Allen.
The Patriots, which conclude their regular season at Georgia State on Saturday, took a victory lap through the student section after the game, a nod to their Green and Gold-clad classmates.
“I thought it was wonderful,” Larranaga said. “Our players really appreciate the support they get from the students.”