A Streak Begins With A Flash Nine-game Mason Surge starts with white knuckle Win in florida

A morose group of 14 players, coaches and support staff huddled within a tiny locker room in Estero, Florida on the evening of November 21, 2016.

Smiles were at a premium, although morale remained high.

George Mason had just lost to Houston by 37 in the Gulf Coast Showcase to drop the Patriots to 1-3 over the season's first four games.

At roughly 9:30 p.m., the Patriots filed out to leave the arena, knowing that they’d be suiting up 16 hours later for a 1:30 p.m. game vs. a quality Kent State club.

There would be no time for a practice.

No shootaround.

Just a light walk through.

As head coach Dave Paulsen later put it…

“It was gut check time.”

The Patriots returned to their cramped lockers at roughly 11:30 the next morning and Coach Paulsen addressed his team.

“I told our guys, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to win today, but we’re going to play well,” Paulsen said. “I knew it was a time to determine who we were and what we were about. We needed to stop looking over our shoulders and worrying about making mistakes.

"I had a good feeling about that game. I knew we had a good group - a hungry group - that was ready to fight for every possession and fight together, as one.”

That prognostication would prove accurate, and represent a sign of things to come for the young Patriots, who entered the season as one of the 50 most inexperienced teams in the nation with six freshmen and five sophomores.

Mason solidified a starting lineup for the Kent State game that it would utilize for the majority of the season moving forward

Mason won the tip, and it became apparent quickly that the game would likely come down to the wire.

In just the first 10 minutes, the teams played to a tie five times, with the score knotted up at 5-5, 7-7, 9-9, 13-13 and 16-16.

A Karmari Newman 3-pointer, the second of the season for the young sharpshooter, keyed a 6-0 rally for the Patriots that built a 22-16 advantage.

Kent responded with a run of their own to take a 32-29 lead with 3:30 to play in the half and the two teams entered the break knotted at 38.

Neither team would take a lead of more than two points until midway through the final stanza, when Kent utilized a 6-1 spurt to go up six (64-58) with 10:42 to go.

Kent held a three point edge (75-72) with just 1:48 to play, but the Patriots developed a knack for rallying late all season long, and that chutzpah may have developed on this November afternoon on the shores of Western Florida.

Marquise Moore exploded for a lay-up to cut it to one (75-74) with 1:13 to play. Then after a key stop, Moore threaded a beautiful pass to Otis Livingston II at the corner of the 3-point arc, and the Linden, N.J., product knocked down a huge shot to put the Patriots ahead, 77-75 with 21 seconds remaining.

Mason's win streak began in sunny Estero, Florida

Kent State had one final possession, but Jalen Avery’s lay-in with three seconds to go was no good, and the Patriots hung on for the 79-75 win.

Talented sophomore Otis Livingston II hit the game-winning 3-pointer for Mason against the Golden Flashes

Coming into the year, Marquise Moore was not expected by many A-10 pundits to have the incredible senior season he ultimately put together for George Mason.

He averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game as a junior and opened the season with 13 points and 0 rebounds in the Patriots' debut against Towson on November 12.

He put together double-doubles in the Patriots’ next two games vs. Lebanon Valley and Mt. St. Mary’s, but his breakout performance arguably came against the Golden Flashes. Moore dropped 23 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out five assists in a packed stat line that would soon become less jaw-dropping and almost expected by #MasonNation as his stellar season progressed.

Marquise Moore chatted with Mason play-by-play man Bill Rohland after the big win.

Mason also received an outstanding effort from Livingston vs. Kent State, as the sophomore tallied 20 points, hit a trio of 3-pointers and dished out five assists in the win. The November performance was a sign of things to come for the 1-2 backcourt punch of Moore and Livingston, who would give Patriot opponents fits all season long.

Mason also received important contributions from Jaire Grayer (14 points, 2-4 3pt FG) and Justin Kier, the latter of which hit double figures in scoring (10 pts) for the first time in his young Mason career.

What may have been lost on casual college basketball followers is how solid the early part of Mason’s schedule proved to be over those first five games.

While Mason went 2-3, the Patriots opener came against a Towson team that would finish the season with a 20-13 record and a No. 92 RPI ranking.

Mt. St. Mary’s, which opened the season with nine-straight road games against the likes of NCAA teams West Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan, Arkansas and Bucknell, would go on to 18 of their final 22 regular season games and claim the NEC Tournament title. The Mountaineers won their NCAA First Four game in Dayton, then trailed overall No. 1 seed Villanova by just one at halftime of their Round of 64 matchup.

Houston would win 21 games and advance to the NIT, while the Flashes put together an incredible run of their own.

Kent State went 10-6 in the Mid-American Conference and entered the league tournament in Cleveland as the No. 6 seed. The Flashes went on to win all four of their tournament games, including a championship victory over top seed Akron, to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The 14th-seeded Flashes gave No. 3 UCLA all they could handle before pulling away down the stretch.

The win was a good one for the Patriots, as Kent State would go on to win the 2017 MAC Championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament

Back to the Patriots.

A relieved group of student-athletes returned to their locker room that November day, which had been silent a little less than a day earlier.

My how things changed.

The Patriots' games vs. Houston, Kent St & Bradley were part of the Gulf Coast Showcase

The jolly Patriots celebrated the victory, although they might not have known what would come next.

The victory kicked off a streak of nine games in which the Patriots posted a flawless 9-0 record.

It was the kickstart the team needed, and Mason would start turning heads in Fairfax and beyond in the days to come.

“To some degree that game was a turning point,” Paulsen said. “We realized if we bought in and just stuck together, we could have success. I think really beyond that, we came back and we rattled off a month straight of high level practices. That effort in practice, coupled with that Kent win, is really what got things going for us.”

The Patriots huddle up late in the contest against Kent State

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