Freshman stole the show in Thursday night’s Colonial Athletic Association matchup that featured the teams picked to finish 1-2 in the preseason coaches’ rankings – Drexel and George Mason.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, a late offensive surge overcame a historic defensive performance as George Mason saw its CAA record 18-game regular season winning streak snapped in a 60-53 loss to Drexel in front of 2,532 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.
Drexel freshman Damion Lee put on an absolute show in the second half for the Dragons by scoring 16 of his game-high 21 points, including four three pointers, in the final eight and a half minutes of what had been a back-and-forth defensive struggle.
Lee did most of his damage when he knocked down three consecutive long distance shots in a 1:41 stretch that saw Drexel (11-5, 3-2) quickly turn a two point deficit at 49-47 into a five point advantage at 56-51 .
The Dragons would never relinquish that lead as the preseason conference favorites put themselves back in the mix for the CAA regular season crown.
It had been over a calendar year since George Mason (12-5, 4-1) last lost a conference game in what was the nation’s longest current regular season winning streak.
George Mason point guard Bryon Allen wasn’t surprised by Lee’s ability to get hot from the outside as the two grew up in Maryland playing against each other.
“He just knocked down tough shots,” Allen said of Lee’s 8-of-14 shooting performance, particularly that late surge.
“One shot in the corner against Vertrail [Vaughns], he knocked it down. The next shot – transition in my face – he knocked it down. He’s just a great shooter.”
Making matters worse for George Mason was that while Lee was going off for Drexel, the Patriots connected on just two of their last nine shots – most of which were ill advised, or rushed attempts.
Allen’s forced jumper with the Patriots trailing by just a possession at 56-53 with 20 seconds remaining was a perfect example of what went wrong late for George Mason.
“As a point guard, I have to get better because Ryan [Pearson] was open in the corner as Coach Hewitt told me,” Allen said.
“But as I grow I’m going to learn how to be a better point guard and make that play.”
Speaking of Pearson, the Patriots leading scorer struggled for the second consecutive game.
After failing to hit a field goal in four attempts in a win over Georgia State last Saturday, the senior forward went just 1-of-9 from the field for four points, well below his average of 17.4 points per game.
“Ryan had a tough night but I’ll live with him, I’ll ride with him anytime,” Coach Hewitt said about his senior leader.
Pearson did, however, find other ways to impact the game by collecting eleven rebounds and dishing out four assists.
George Mason freshman Erik Copes, a Philadelphia native, returned home and decided to throw a block party for all of his friends and relatives in attendance.
In his normal role coming off the bench, Copes had a career-high seven blocks in 13 first-half minutes. The 6-foot-8 highly touted big-man took a spill going up for a rebound in the second-half and was limited to just six ineffective minutes.
Even though he played less than half the game, Copes’ performance was good enough for second all-time in George Mason history. For awhile it looked as though the record of ten set in 1990 by Byron Tucker was in danger but Copes has three more seasons to rewrite that bit of history.
“It’s all about timing with block shots,” Copes said about his big defensive night.
“You have to know when to jump and when not. I’ve been working on that for a very, very long time – about getting my timing right and knowing when to jump and when not [to jump].”
Mike Morrison was the lone Patriot in double-figures with ten points in the losing effort.
Up Next: George Mason travels to Harrisonburg to take on long-time rivals James Madison on Saturday. The game can be seen live on Comcast SportsNet Plus at 7 PM.
Patriots Notes: Coach Hewitt went with his fifth different starting lineup of the season when he replaced Sherrod Wright with Andre Cornelius.