George Mason's overpowering defense dictated the first half action against visiting Hofstra on Saturday night. The Patriots inability to take advantage of that early stinginess - plus their own offensive limitations - nearly cost them in the second half.
The key word there is nearly though frankly that might be an exaggeration considering the Pride's offensive futility. After watching their halftime lead disintegrate, the Patriots' aggressive ball stoppers regained their conquering ways. Sherrod Wright scored 21 points as George Mason defeated Hofstra 57-46 in front of the announced crowd of 5,810 at the Patriot Center.
The Patriots (11-7, 4-2), owners of the top scoring defense in the CAA, held the Pride to 22.9 percent from the field and 1 of 13 from beyond the arc. George Mason has won four of five games since losing their conference opener to Northeastern.
As has been the case with many a college basketball game this season across the nation, offensive execution rarely existed - especially when the Pride held possession. Outside of brief flurry starting the second half, George Mason stymied Hofstra's shooters throughout.
The true obstruction came before halftime as the Patriots held the Pride to 4 of 25 (16 percent) from the floor. At one stretch, Hofstra missed 13 field goal attempts and went over six minutes without a point. George Mason took advantage with 16-2 run and eventually led by 12, yet only entered halftime up 31-23. The Pride feasted at the free throw line, making 14 of 18.
"You see somebody make four field goals and it's an eight-point game," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. "You think to yourself, 'what is this?'"
The head scratching went up a notch after the Pride (5-13, 2-3) opened the second half on a 10-2 spurt, making as many field goals over the opening five minutes as they had during the entire first half.
Thanks to the Patriots' defense, that momentum shift did not last for long. Though Hofstra continued generating offense via free throws, the Pride missed 12 of their final 15 shots and committed 10 of their 15 turnovers in the second half.
"We had a couple of shots around the rim that just didn't fall and they got the momentum," Hewitt said. "They got it tied at 33, but we were able to force some turnovers and get some easy baskets that gave us a good working margin."
Leading 42-38 with 10 minutes remaining, George Mason effectively ended the game with an 11-2 run featuring four points from Wright.
"It was dragged out because of the fouls - we're still fouling too much," Wright said. "I thought we played solid defensively. On the ball and off the ball we played well."
Fouling too much - 25 overall - did not cost the Patriots this time, but has been an ongoing and unwanted trend dating back to the season opener against Virginia.
"[We] could never get into a rhythm. We got to stop fouling," Hewitt said. "We keep talking about it since the Virginia game. We'll keep talking about until we get it through our heads"
Hewitt used 12 players, 10 of which scored though just most games, only Wright reached double figures. Jonathan Arledge (seven rebounds) and Corey Edwards each scored eight points. George Mason shot 40 percent overall and missed 10 of 12 3-pointers.
The defensive end is where the wave of bodies proved vital.
"I think their depth really allows them to play aggressively," Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said. "They really guard you in the halfcourt...One of the reasons we shot poorly, we had a lot of short shot clocks and that's a credit to their defense."
Could never get into a rhythm. We got to stop fouling. We keep talking about it since the Virginia game. We'll keep talking about until we get it through our heads.