FAIRFAX, Va. – There is absolutely nothing like sports. It can give you the thrill of all thrills (i.e. 2011 Final Four) and it can give you gut-wrenching losses (i.e. Tuesday night in Fairfax).
Unfortunately for the VCU men's basketball team, the latter part of that statement was dealt to them on Tuesday night when Sherrod Wright connected on a heave from 30-feet to give George Mason a 62-61 win at the Patriot Center. It was the first loss for the Black & Gold since Jan. 8th, a span of 37 days and 11 victories.
"That's a tough pill to swallow. I don't quite know what to say about the end of the game," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "I give a lot of credit to George Mason for sticking around and making tough shots when they needed them. They're a good team with a lot of good players, Sherrod Wright being one of them. I give him a ton of credit for stepping up and hitting a tough, tough shot."
In a game in which neither team led by more than eight and was a one-possession game for 64-percent of the time, the final 90 seconds provided the CAA's most dramatic game of the year. With the game tied at 51, senior Bradford Burgess drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to give VCU a three-point lead.
After the Rams got a defensive stop, freshman Briante Weber connected on two free-throws to push the lead to five. Mason would miss a jumper, but an offensive rebound would allow Ryan Pearson to hit his first trey of the game to bring the Patriots back within two. Back to the free-throw line and this time Troy Daniels hit both to push the lead to four.
Vaughn Gray would then hit a jumper in the lane, but once again Weber hit two more free-throws to push the lead back to four. Yet again, Mason would hit a big shot when Vertrail Vaughns connect on a three from the corner to bring Mason within one. Weber was then fouled and hit 1-of-2 from the stripe to give VCU a two-point cushion with 3.8 seconds remaining, which proved to be just enough time for Wright's heroics.
"I had one message for our guys afterwards and that was don't you dare hang your heads," Smart said. "Not one of us from the players to the coaches to the managers, none of us should feel sorry for ourselves. We'll grow from this and we have another chance to prove ourselves on Friday."
For the Rams, the junior duo of Daniels and Darius Theus combined for 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals on the evening. Burgess scored in double-figures for the third straight game with 13 points, including three treys on the night.
"We had a chance to close out the game and we didn't do it," Burgess said. "You can't let good teams hang around and unfortunately that's what happened tonight."
The much anticipated match-up of first place teams lived up to the billing with the largest lead in the first half being five when Daniels buried a three to give VCU a 23-18 advantage with 5:13 left in the stanza. However, Mason scored eight points in the final 2:30 of the half to take a 28-27 lead into halftime.
VCU's defense would come out firing in the second half, holding the Patriots without a point for the first 4:04 and put together a 6-0 run to grab a five-point lead. Twice the Rams would push the lead to eight, but Mason answered with an 11-0 run of their own to hold a three-point advantage.
Like they had all year, the Rams showed resolve with a quick four points to set the stage for the dramatic and gut-wrenching 90 seconds of the contest.
"There's a reason that George Mason has won 18 conference games in a row at home," Smart said. "They've got good players and a tough environment to play in."
The Black & Gold held the CAA's most prolific and potent offense to just 62 points and 40.7% from the field, while forcing 16 turnovers on the night. VCU pushed their country-leading steal total to 288 on the year.
VCU steps out of conference on Friday when it welcomes Northern Iowa to the Seigel Center for the 10th annual Sears BracketBusters event. Game time on ESPN2 is set for 7 p.m.
Photo credit to Logan Whitton