Of all the sterling statistics accumulated by George Mason during an 89-63 demolition of Delaware on Wednesday night, the smallest figure was probably the most impressive and, by Coach Paul Hewitt’s standards, the most welcomed: eight turnovers, tying a season low.
The Patriots were averaging 15 and had accumulated 20 in five games, including 21 last weekend, to become the fourth-sloppiest team in the Colonial Athletic Association. Most everything else was beginning to improve this winter, except the turnover total.
Taking better care of the ball and settling into a lethal rhythm, George Mason (14-5, 6-1) raced to a 16-4 lead and a 15-point halftime advantage to retain a share of first place with Old Dominion.
Asked what the difference was against visiting Delaware, Hewitt paused, smiled and said: “I’ve got no idea. It’s the same plays; we were cleaner, more efficient tonight. We make some plays sometimes [where] I just scratch my head. We watch them on film, I ask [the players] and they say, ‘I have no idea, Coach.’
“If we can [reduce the turnovers], we can put some big numbers on the board.”
Led by Ryan Pearson’s 24 points, the Patriots put up 89 for the second outing in a row and shot 54.4 percent. Pearson added 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots, while fellow forward Mike Morrison posted 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Point guard Bryon Allen had 12 points, four rebounds and four assists and made a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer in front of 3,987 at Patriot Center.
Devon Saddler scored 21 for the Blue Hens (7-10, 3-4), who lost their 10th straight in Fairfax.
The first five minutes were decisive as the Patriots scored with ease against Delaware’s deplorable defense and parlayed turnovers into repeated transition baskets. Blue Hens Coach Monte Ross burned two quick timeouts to stem the tide.
“We practice running and we want to be a running team,” Pearson said. “We want to be a high-scoring team. . . . We came out strong on defense, we came out fired up, and we just got uncontested baskets.”
Saddler and Josh Brinkley accounted for Delaware’s first 20 points and had all but eight in the first half. The duo combined to shoot 10 of 15 before intermission, while the rest of the team was 2 of 16.
The half ended with Allen hitting a three-pointer in front of the Delaware bench and Morrison and Delaware’s Hakim McCullar receiving technical fouls. A moment earlier, they had exchanged words at the other end of the court.
The Blue Hens were within 51-42 early in the second half when the Patriots put the game out of reach with a 15-4 surge. Freshman Vaughn Gray, who has suddenly emerged as one of the team’s most dangerous shooters, instigated the run with a three-pointer. The elder players call him “The Future.”
Said Hewitt: “Early in the year, when [Gray] wasn’t playing a ton, like most freshmen, he pouted a little bit in practice. He fought his way back into the rotation and I trust him now.”
Later, Pearson made consecutive steals and converted inside for a 20-point advantage, allowing Hewitt to pull his starters early.
“A lot of people were doubting us because of [the team’s] slow start, but now you’ve got a lot of people starting to get back on the George Mason wagon and have confidence again,” Morrison said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re working toward a championship, not just being good.”
Patriots notes: Freshman Erik Copes, fourth in the CAA in blocks with 2.3 per game, missed his second consecutive game after taking a hard fall at Drexel last week. He is questionable for Saturday’s home game against Towson (0-19, 0-7).