Fairfax, Va. –George Mason’s unusual post season journey made an unexpected pit stop on Wednesday night as the Patriots hosted Game 2 of the College Basketball Invitational Finals in front of a small, yet boisterous sellout crowd of 1,280 at the Recreational & Athletic Center.
With the Patriot Center unavailable due to a prior commitment, George Mason played its first ever official game at the cozy venue normally reserved for practices as well as other sports such as volleyball and wrestling.
With fans literally on top of the action, George Mason held on to defeat Santa Clara 73-66 to force a decisive Game 3 on Friday night. That game will take place at George Mason’s normal home – the Patriot Center with its far great capacity of 10,000.
George Mason (22-15) leading scorer Sherrod Wright bounced back from a dismal offensive performance in Game 1 to lead the Patriots with 20 points and 10 rebounds while back court running mate Bryon Allen chipped in 15 points and four assists.
Wright was held without a field goal (0-for-6) and just three points in 30 minutes in that 81-73 loss two nights ago.
Going forward perhaps George Mason and coach Paul Hewitt should give some consideration to hosting future games in the intimate setting in The RAC as it is affectionately called by fans and alumni.
“I didn’t expect it to be that loud,” Wright said after the game with a big smile on his face. ”Everybody came out and supported us and it was a great atmosphere.”
Allen agreed that the location of the game was better than he expected and it even reminded him of the ‘good old days’.
“It was a great atmosphere, it felt like I was back in high school,” Allen said.
After blowing a large lead in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals against Northeastern almost a month ago, not many had the Patriots playing another six games through March and into April but that’s exactly what has happened thanks to the CBI.
“That’s why we got into this event, to get these games and now we will play our sixth game which means more reps and more situations,” Hewitt explained about the decision to accept an invite into the six year old event. ”We’re playing our best ball of the year, we really are. It’s a great experience for us.”
Santa Clara (25-12) was led by Kevin Foster’s 16 points but the CBI’s leading scorer needed to take 15 shots to get there. Foster came into the game averaging a tournament best 29.5 points per game and dropped 28 in Game 1.
George Mason built a 13 point halftime advantage by shooting 46.4 percent from the field and knocking down 11 of 14 free throw attempts. The Patriots limited the Broncos to just nine first half field goals and forced seven turnovers.
Santa Clara made a few runs in the second half but was never able to get closer than four and trialed by double digits most of the time. Broncos coach Kerry Keating made several post game references to the fans being on top of the action and looked forward to checking out the Patriot Center on Friday night.
So what are the chances Wednesday night’s positive experience translates into future home games away from the Patriot Center? It sounds like some early season games against lesser opponents might end up back at The RAC.
“I think there are some circumstance where it could be good,” Hewitt said about hosting future games at The RAC. ”You look around and Georgetown they play at McDonough one or two games a year.”