Sherrod Wright clapped a hand on Bryon Allen’s shoulder as he walked past him in the hallway outside the George Mason locker room.
“Thief,” Wright said. “The man’s a thief.”
Allen was a thief, a defender and a shotmaker as the Patriots held off Drexel 60-54 in a CAA tournament quarterfinal.
Allen played wing man to Wright, matching his season high with 16 points. He had six steals, hit a manly 3-pointer that stemmed a Drexel comeback, and he defended Frantz Massenat down the stretch, forcing him to air-ball a 3-pointer from deep in the closing seconds.
“He’s been our best player over the last 10 games,” Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “It took me a year-and-a-half to figure that out. … He’s been our most important player since we put him in the starting lineup.”
Wright scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half as the fourth-seeded Patriots (18-13) advanced to Sunday’s semifinals against No. 1 Northeastern.
Meanwhile, Drexel (13-18) concluded a disappointing season after being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference. The Dragons endured injury and illness and generally inconsistent play, sometimes from its best players.
Massenat, the wonderful point guard, led with 20 points, but committed five of Drexel’s 17 turnovers. Damion Lee (11 points) was just 2-for-10 from the field after torching Mason for 45 points in two regular season games.
Head Dragon Bruiser Flint said Saturday was just like a lot of games this season: his guys simply didn’t make enough plays.
Wright and Allen combined for 25 of Mason’s 33 points in the second half. After attempting an uncharacteristic 14 3-pointers in the first half – the Patriots averaged just under 16 per game in CAA play – they attempted only three in the second as they drove the ball. That produced a 17-for-19 performance at the foul line.
Allen hit the game’s biggest 3-pointer, from right of the key as the shot clock was about to expire and Drexel had pulled within 53-49.
Lee’s 3-pointer at 1:22 cut Mason’s lead to 56-54, and after a Vertrail Vaughns miss, Drexel still had a chance. But Allen shadowed Massenat, forcing him to use a high screen and to shoot a 3-pointer a bit beyond his range.
Wright was fouled and hit two free throws to push the lead to 58-54 with 15 seconds left. Derrick Thomas missed for Drexel, and Jonathan Arledge made two more free throws for the final margin.
“I was just trying to get in the flow of the game,” Allen said. “Not rush my shots, let the game come to me. It started with my defense.”
Allen, a 6-3 junior, has started the past 13 games and averaged 9.5 points, with six games in double figures.
Allen's aim, he said: Bring my energy; play defense. The Patriots will need that Sunday against Northeastern's superior backcourt.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times