Reporting Bobby Bancroft
FAIRFAX, Va. — With the score tied at 52 late in the game, the Green Machine – George Mason’s famous pep band – was playing Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ just to the left of Drexel’s bench during a critical timeout.
The sound coming from the band was contagious and as a result the Patriot Center was rocking.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, it was the visitors, not the home team, who continued to believe that they could crawl all the way back from a 20-point deficit in a hostile environment.
Damion Lee capped off his game-high 29 points by scoring the final six for the Dragons, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 23 seconds remaining as Drexel completed a 24-point turnaround in defeating George Mason 58-54 in a Colonial Athletic Association game on Thursday night.
Lee, a sophomore guard from Baltimore who also hurt the Patriots in Drexel win last season, scored 20 points in the second half, just narrowly missing his career-high of 30 that he set on Monday against Delaware.
As if coming back from twenty points weren’t difficult enough, Drexel accomplished it in a building where they had previously posted just one win in nine tries.
“This can be a House of Horrors for us,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said about coming to the Patriot Center. ”We’ve lost some huge games in here. I mean some serious butt whuppings up in this joint.”
George Mason (12-9, 5-4) led 33-13 with 3:45 remaining after a Corey Edwards three-pointer. Drexel (9-12, 5-4) was able to close the gap to a much more manageable 13 at the half thanks to a Lee three-pointer as time expired.
It was a shot that Patriots coach Paul Hewitt knew was worth far more than just three points. It gave Drexel, and more importantly Lee confidence heading into the locker room.
“I thought we did a pretty good job on him in the first half,’ Hewitt said about Lee’s nine points.
“He got going that last play of the first half, it was a very disappointing play. That was the one that lit the fuse.”
Drexel, last season’s regular season CAA Champion, was back to within six points at 38-32 before the first media timeout of the second half. George Mason’s Sherrod Wright (15 points) and Jonathan Arledge (14 points) kept the Patriots ahead until a Lee layup with 7:17 remaining completed the 20-point swing for the visitors.
“I felt like as long as I got one in by the end of the half, I felt like I could rally off just based on how they were playing me,” Lee explained after his second half scoring outburst.
George Mason had its chances late but everything that could go wrong, seemingly did. After Lee’s go-ahead shot the Patriots stepped out of bounds, fumbled a missed free throw into the second row, and had the ball stolen at midcourt.
Up Next: George Mason travels to Harrisonburg, Va. on Saturday afternoon to take on surprising second-place JMU (13-10, 7-3) at 4 pm. Sherrod Wright scored a game-high 23 points on January 15th as the Patriots picked up a 68-57 win over their longtime rivals.