FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) Sherrod Wright hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer Tuesday night, giving George Mason a 62-61 win over Virginia Commonwealth in a first-place battle worthy of the two Final Four schools from the Colonial Athletic Association.
After VCU's Briante Weber made 1 of 2 free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining, Wright dribbled downcourt and swished a 30-footer, leading to a raucous Patriot Center celebration.
Ryan Pearson scored 24 points to lead the Patriots (22-6, 14-2), who have won 10 of 11 and remain in a tie for first in the CAA with Drexel, which beat William & Mary 63-61 earlier Tuesday.
Bradford Burgess and Troy Daniels scored 13 points apiece to lead the Rams (22-6, 13-3), whose 11-game winning streak came to an end.
Burgess tied the game with a 3-pointer, then hit another one to give VCU a 54-51 lead with 1:19 remaining. But the Patriots made three 3-pointers - by Pearson, Vertrail Vaughns and Wright - in the final 30 seconds, more than compensating for the Rams' five free throws in six attempts in that final half-minute.
Neither team ever held a double-digit lead, and neither shot well from 3-point range until late in the game. The Rams were 6 for 21 behind the arc; the Patriots went 6 for 17.
It was the first meeting between the in-state rivals since VCU's mid-major run to the Final Four last year. George Mason made a similarly historic run in 2006, giving unprecedented national recognition to a conference overshadowed in its area by the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Patriots and Rams will play again on Feb. 25 in the regular-season finale at Richmond - almost certainly with the top seed in the conference tournament on the line - and potentially could meet again in the March 2-5 CAA tournament in the state capital.
Long gone are any players from GMU's Final Four team, of course, but the Patriots were an NCAA tournament team last year and have won 20 games for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Coach Shaka Smart, meanwhile, has quickly overcome the loss of several key players from VCU's Final Four squad and the Rams this week received votes in the AP Top 25.
The Rams forced nine turnovers in the first half, rattling the Patriots with a full-court press. George Mason stayed in the game with some acrobatic individual plays. Bryon Allen dribbled into a double team but got his shot to fall while hitting the floor, drawing a foul along the way to set up a three-point play. Erik Copes managed to bank in a 3-pointer that tied the game at 23, and Vaughns' 3-pointer gave GMU a 28-27 lead at the half.
The Rams opened the second half with a 6-0 run, then extended the lead with a pair of 3-pointers by Daniels. Juvonte Reddic missed a close hook shot that would have given VCU a 10-point lead, and George Mason came back with six straight points from Pearson and then regained the lead on Vaughns' 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining, part of an 11-0 run.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP