DAYTON, Ohio – In arguably one of the toughest places to play in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the George Mason women's basketball team wiped away a double-digit first-half deficit and gave the conference champ everything it could handle.
The Patriots, however, couldn't fend off Dayton in a 71-66 loss on Wednesday night at UD Arena in their final road game of the regular season. Mason shot just 15 percent in the fourth quarter as the Flyers held on to win their 16th straight game and clinch the A-10 title outright.
Freshman Nicole Cardano-Hillary scored 24 points and dished out six assists. Graduate student Natalie Butler
recorded her nation-leading 28th consecutive double-double with 16 points and 24 rebounds (for the second straight game) in addition to blocking four shots.
Butler also broke the Atlantic 10 Conference record for single season rebounds. She surpassed West Virginia's Olivia Bradley's mark of 458 rebounds in 1984-85 with her 10th rebound on Wednesday night. Butler, also the single-season school record holder, now has a nation-leading 473 rebounds.
The Patriots (21-8, 10-5 A-10) trailed by 13 points in the first half as Dayton shot 52.9 percent in the opening quarter. But Mason sprinted back into the game with an 11-1 run, closing the gap to 34-31 by halftime.
The Flyers (21-4, 15-0) pushed the advantage back to seven in the third quarter. But the Patriots again responded with a late-quarter run. They scored eight points in 50 seconds, with Cardano-Hillary sparking the spurt with five points. Sophomore Sarah Kaminski
's 3-pointer in the corner with nine seconds left in the period gave Mason its first lead since starting the game up 2-0.
The Patriots took a 53-52 lead into the fourth quarter. The teams exchanged baskets to start, with Mason last holding the lead on another Kaminski trey for a 56-54 lead with 7:28 left.
But the Patriots scored just 10 points and made only two baskets from the field the rest of the way. Mason shot 3 of 20 (15 percent) from the field in the final quarter. Dayton capitalized, jumping in front with more than 6:34 remaining and not relinquishing the lead. The Flyers led 66-59 with 70 seconds left. The Patriots kept fighting after a pair of Cardano-Hillary free throws on an unsportsmanlike foul by Dayton cut the lead to three and gave Mason the ball with a chance to tie with 27 seconds left. But the Patriots turned the ball over on the ensuing possession as Dayton made two free throws followed by layup after breaking a Mason trap.
Dayton won the rebounding battle 48-44 as the game featured two of the nation's top four rebounders in Butler and Dayton's JaVonna Layfield. Lauren Cannatelli led Dayton with 20 points and Layfiled had 14 points and 18 rebounds as four Flyers scored in double figures.
Cardano-Hillary scored 20 points or more for the 10th time this season. She was 6 of 21 from the field but made all 10 of her free throw attempts. Kaminski and freshman reserve Camarie Gatling
scored eight points apiece. Mason shot just 32.4 percent from the field.
The Patriots wrap up the regular season at 2 p.m. on Saturday at home against La Salle on Senior Day at EagleBank Arena. Butler and senior forward Tayler Dodson
will be honored before the game.