Cody Norman, Staff Writer

The men’s basketball team carried a 17-game home conference winning streak back into the Patriot Center for another Colonial Athletic Association matchup with the VCU Rams on Tuesday night. Mason had dropped back-to-back games for the first time in 2010 while the Rams were one of the hottest teams in the CAA, winning eight of their previous nine contests.

The ESPNU crew was in attendance to broadcast the thrilling rivalry, former Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington sat courtside and the Patriot Center was packed with the most students in school history. Tuesday night’s game had all the makings of an unforgettable matchup, and it certainly lived up to all the hype.

The Patriots came out a little flat-footed in the first half and got beat to seemingly every loose ball. VCU capitalized on 22 points in the paint while connecting on 13 points off nine Mason turnovers.

VCU left the court at halftime with a comfortable 41-28 lead and appeared to have the Patriots right where they wanted them.
But Mason’s only senior, forward Louis Birdsong, gave his team a much needed lift as he scored five straight points highlighted by an impressive one-handed slam over VCU’s Larry Sanders with 16:37 remaining in the game. Sophomore forward Mike Morrison got in on the action, scoring eight of Mason’s next 14 points to trim the Rams’ lead to seven.

Birdsong gave Mason its first lead of the second half with just under four minutes to go, but the Rams immediately regained control and held a four-point lead with just 23 seconds to play. With his team down a pair and about 11 seconds remaining, junior Cam Long snatched the defensive rebound and took the ball the length of the floor before being fouled by Sanders. The foul sent Sanders to the bench and put Long on the line with a chance to tie the game. Long sank both attempts to knot the game at 69 and send the game into overtime.

After two big buckets by the Rams’ Joey Rodriguez, Morrison retied the game at 74. Freshman forward Luke Hancock scored on a pretty reverse left handed layup before sophomore forward Ryan Pearson’s and-one put the Patriots ahead by five and ultimately sealed the deal for the home team.

“You can see the impact effort has. You think you’re playing hard but then you turn it up a notch and realize ‘Wow, I’m playing harder than I did in the first half,’” said Head Coach Jim Larranaga, pleased with his team’s effort in the second half.

Long led the way with 19 points and five assists, and Morrison recorded an impressive 18-point and 10-rebound double-double performance in the winning effort. Birdsong was an efficient 5-of-6 from the floor for 13 points.

Rodriguez carried the Rams on his back for most of the second half and tallied 24 points and seven assists on the night. Sanders poured in 13 points, but the Rams’ big man was limited to just two in a second half that was plagued by foul troubles.