The Wolfpack responded to the challenge with a dizzying 19-2 run, a seven-minute stretch that ensured the Pack would not become the next ACC team to become the victim of a November upset. The Pack held on to its lead over the final minutes to down the Patriots 78-65 in the second round of the Charleston Classic on Friday night.
The win sets up a championship game match-up on Sunday evening with No. 21 Georgetown.
The Pack played its first full game without senior Tracy Smith, who injured his left knee in Thursday's win over East Carolina. The Pack's leading scorer last season, Smith returned to Raleigh to have his knee re-evaluated and will not play the rest of the weekend.
While DeShawn Painter picked up the slack for the injured Smith on Thursday, Richard Howell shouldered the load in the paint for the Pack on Friday. The sophomore big man was 6-of-8 from the floor and scored 13 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Painter, who was plagued by foul trouble early in the game, finished with four points and five rebounds in his first start of the year.
Four other players scored in double figures for the Pack, led by Ryan Harrow who came off the bench to score 14. Scott Wood added 14, CJ Leslie had 11 points and eight boards and Javi Gonzalez scored 10 points in the win. Lorenzo Brown scored nine points and led the team with six assists.
Once again foul trouble became an issue for the Pack in the first half, as Gonzalez picked up two fouls in the first 10 minutes and had to sit the rest of the half. But he was hardly alone – Jordan Vandenberg had three personals while Leslie and Painter also picked up two the first half. As a result, the Pack sent the Patriots to the line 16 times where they converted 14 into points.
The Pack jumped out to an early lead behind the shooting prowess of Wood, who hit his first two 3-pointers and finished with 12 points in the half. But the Patriots came back, even briefly taking the lead, as the Pack struggled defensively. The Pack got some breathing room late in the half thanks to a 13-3 run, getting a double-digit lead before George Mason cut it to 45-38 at halftime.
George Mason shot just 35 percent in the half and had eight turnovers but stayed in the game thanks to its near-perfect free-throw shooting. The Pack shot 55 percent, including 6-of-12 from behind the arc, to help build the seven-point halftime advantage.
The Patriots fought back in the second half, going on a 10-2 run to eventually tie the game and take a short 56-55 lead over the Pack. But the Pack defense helped rejuvenate the offense, as the Pack got out on the fast break thanks to a flurry of George Mason turnovers as part of a 19-2 run. The run helped them re-take control of the game, opening up a double-digit lead with under three minutes remaining. The Pack would hang on from there and will now play Georgetown in the championship game on Sunday night.