Drexel freshman Damion Lee almost single-handedly brought down the Daskalakis Athletic Center on Thursday night.
Say that three times fast.
His 16-point outbreak in the final eight minutes of the second half ignited a sluggish Dragon offense and helped to snap an 18-game in-conference win streak for George Mason, grinding out a 60-53 home win.
Lee finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-9 from three-point range to lead Drexel.
For the first 32 minutes, it was a back-and-forth, mid-major defensive battle, one with few turnovers, physical play, and not much scoring: exactly what Drexel wanted. As the best defensive team in the CAA, surrendering just 55 points per game, the Dragons slowed the pace against George Mason, forcing them into an uncomfortable spot.
The Patriots’ biggest weapon, 6-9 senior Ryan Pearson, was 1-of-9 from the floor on Thursday night, and credit that to a strong defensive effort from the Dragons. Forward Mike Morrison was the only Patriot in double figures, with 10, and Mason shot just 40 percent from the floor.
In 12 wins this season, Mason is averaging 72 point per game. In five losses, they put up an average of 63.
So the Dragons may have cracked the code on George Mason.
Eliminate Pearson and play mistake-free basketball; couple that with relentless defense and one strong run, as Drexel did in the last eight minutes, and you’re in line for a win.
According to Dave Ommen, NBC’s latest NCAA tournament projections show the CAA as a one-bid league.
Without the now-graduated Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen, Virginia Commonwealth is a different team than the Final Four squad from last year. Old Dominion had a rough time in the nonconference season, but are 4-1 in the CAA. And don’t forget the team that just beat Mason, Drexel, who was picked to win the CAA in the 2011-12 media poll.
Mason remains the best offensive team in the conference, but will have to adjust to teams like Drexel, who can affect that offensive flow.
Things may feel different, with Jim Larranaga now down at Miami and former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt at the helm, but we could still see the same pesky Mason team that could pull an upset in the tournament, come March.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_