Mason eliminated in the 'VCU Coliseum' yet again [OPINION]

Mike Morrison was the best player on the court for the Patriots Sunday as he led the team in both points and rebounds, but it wasn't enough to stop the Rams who had the luxury of playing in front of their home crowd in Richmond (Jake McLernon).
Mike Morrison was the best player on the court for the Patriots Sunday as he led the team in both points and rebounds, but it wasn't enough to stop the Rams who had the luxury of playing in front of their home crowd in Richmond (Jake McLernon).

For the third consecutive year, George Mason made the two-hour trek down 95 South to Richmond for the CAA Tournament only to falter to their archrival VCU.

In this year’s version of the annual beat-down, the Rams jumped out to a quick and painful 22-0 lead, before spreading it to a 28-point margin on two separate occasions in the first half, 32-4 and 41-13.

With the entire Ram nation on its feet and yelling at the top of their lungs, and the mini Mason Nation crowd stunned into silence, the Patriots were simply demoralized and embarrassed. Silence.

I understand that VCU does not play their home games in the Richmond Coliseum, but let’s be real. The CAA Tournament every year is essentially played on the Rams home court. Looking into the stands it is a sea of black and gold, with a few fans of the other teams scattered awkwardly amongst them. I don’t have the exact figures, but there is no doubt that the VCU fans outnumber the fans of the other 11 CAA squads combined.

And by the time there are only three teams left alive, which was the case Sunday when the Patriots and Rams squared off, the place is so packed with VCU fans that the Mason supporters would be unable to even have the smallest hope of being heard.

So, the combination of finding themselves down 32-4 to open the game and stunning the few Mason fans (compared to the number of VCU fans) into silence and the sheer noise and volume of the VCU crowd essentially gave the Patriots no hope.

Yet, led by the senior leadership of Mike Morrison and Andre Cornelius, the Patriots did charge a comeback, and even cut the lead to 48-32 at the half, without question a moral victory heading into the locker room.

With as well as VCU was playing, including hitting their first eight three-point attempts, shutting down Ryan Pearson and forcing 12 Mason first half turnovers, cutting the lead down to 16 was quite an accomplishment. Especially with the VCU fans as loud and crazy as they were.

Speaking of loud and crazy, some of them were a little too crazy. On more than one occasion I noticed trash being thrown from VCU fans down on the Mason student section and on the Green Machine. Truly a classless act. Some of their cheers left little to be desired as well.

But back to the game.

So Mason had cut it to just 16 points, which was pretty remarkable all things considered. And in the second half, the Patriots came out the aggressor. Hewitt moved Cornelius over to the point and he was able to beat the full-court pressure, and he gave Jonathan Arledge more minutes down the stretch as was playing very well, actually much better than Pearson.

Eventually the lead got down to just six points at 64-58 with 3:12 left in the game, more than enough time to complete the epic comeback. At this point, the Mason student section was going crazy and the tiny little Mason section in the corner was as well.

However, it was as if they were whispering.

In a Coliseum full of VCU fans, the Mason chants essentially went unheard. Sure more Mason supporters could have come down, sure maybe the ones that were there could have been louder, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference.

When playing in the “VCU Coliseum,” Mason Nation has little hope of being heard.

So, with the lead down to just six points, Mason got a crucial stop on defense and found a wide-open Vertrail Vaughns on the other end from three-point land. Airball. Less than a minute later, Arledge had a three-point attempt with the deficit still just at six that went begging. Two chances to cut the lead to the three points, but instead VCU’s Bradford Burgess hit a three-ball at the other end that basically ended the game.

The importance of the fans cannot be underestimated in college basketball. Among all sports, college or professional, winning on the road is the most difficult in college basketball. It doesn’t matter whether it is a David playing a Goliath; in college basketball anybody can win in their home gym.

This year, for example, Mason went 15-1 in the Patriot Center and 9-8 outside of Fairfax for a total record of 24-9.

Over the last two seasons, the Patriots are 29-1 when playing at home. When Mason was down big to VCU in the Patriot Center earlier this year, they made a miraculous comeback and won on a buzzer-beater by Sherrod Wright. Clearly, there is a huge advantage to playing at home and magical things just seem to happen.

Had Sunday’s game been truly played on a neutral site, maybe Vaughns or Arledge would have hit one of those threes, maybe they would have had another comeback for the ages. However this game was not played on a neutral site.

Just ask the VCU fans who were throwing trash on the Mason students, or the Mason fans whose chants fell on deaf ears.


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