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.
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.