George Mason vs. Georgia State: Patriots again stumble at home

February 16, 2013

George Mason’s big homecoming crowd began to head home in big numbers midway through the second half Saturday, dismayed by another sour performance at Patriot Center.

With a 78-60 defeat to Georgia State, an outcome that was settled before halftime, the Patriots dropped their third straight in Fairfax. They had not fallen this badly at home since early in the 2005-06 Final Four season and hadn’t lost a Colonial Athletic Association home game by such a margin in 11 years.

“We have had great support here — just very disappointed we haven’t put on a better performance,” Coach Paul Hewitt said solemnly after his team fell into sixth place in the CAA with an 8-6 record (15-11 overall). “This is a very difficult game for us to accept, but we have no choice and hopefully learn from it.”

The Patriots are running out of time. They have just four games left before the CAA tournament, and instead of hitting their stride, they continue to display bad habits.

“We have to keep our heads up,” freshman forward Marko Gujanicic said. “We don’t have time to think about these losses.”

The Patriots are a perplexing bunch: On the road, they have won three in a row and four of five, but at home, they are 6-5 overall and 3-4 in the conference after going 15-1 and 9-0, respectively, last season.

Saturday’s game unraveled early in front of 8,010 witnesses. The combination of meek defending and the Panthers’ torrid shooting turned a tight game into an 18-point gap in short order. With 10 minutes left in the game, Georgia State (14-14, 9-6) led by 27.

Aside from junior guard Sherrod Wright, who made four early three-pointers and had 19 points, the Patriots were outmanned and overwhelmed throughout the afternoon. No other starter scored more than seven and the team allowed 51 points in the first half – 12 short of their season average for an entire game.

Freshman R.J. Hunter had 25 points and junior Devonta White had 23 for the Panthers, who shot 62 percent in the first half and made seven of their first 10 three-point attempts.

The Patriots, though, made it easy for them.

“They were going wherever they wanted,” Hewitt said.

The Patriots lacked energy and intensity after the first few minutes, translating into open jumpers and clear paths to the basket for the Panthers.

“We didn’t come out with the intensity we should have,” Wright said, “and they just flat-out shot the ball extremely well.”

The Patriots led, 24-22, when the Panthers scored 16 straight over 2½ minutes. Three players made three-pointers and Hunter had a three-point play against passive resistance.

Gujanicic’s free throws broke the spell, but White and Rashaad Richardson answered with three-pointers for an 18-point gap.

Georgia State ended up scoring on 10 consecutive possessions and posting 26 points in five minutes.

The deluge resumed midway through the second half with a 13-3 run, capped by Manny Atkins’s three-pointer, for a 71-44 lead.

Assessing his defense, Hewitt said: “You’ve got to put good pressure on the ball. If you can make the passes a little tougher, the ball takes a little longer to get to the shooter and we have a better chance to close out. . . . We had really no pressure on their passers.”

Patriots notes: Junior forward Johnny Williams, who started the first 20 games, missed his sixth in a row with concussion symptoms and is out indefinitely.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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