George Mason basketball: Patriots not sharp, but have enough to knock off Saint Francis

November 19, 2013

The George Mason Patriots strained to find positive elements from a 58-46 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) on Tuesday night, their fourth consecutive triumph to begin the season.

But there was this:

“I am glad we played defense,” relieved Coach Paul Hewitt said after a game marred by 46 fouls, 57 free throws, poor shooting from all distances, several air balls and two video reviews.

The Patriots shot 29 percent in the first half and 38 percent overall. Only two players made at least half of their attempts. They committed 17 turnovers and failed to put away an inferior opponent until the last nine minutes.

However, “a sign of a team maturing and getting better from a mental standpoint is that, when you are not shooting well, you still have energy and effort on defense,” Hewitt said. “Young, immature teams, when they miss shots, tend to stop playing defense.”

The Patriots are experienced, and even with three regulars sitting out again, they displayed the wherewithal to finish the job.

Sherrod Wright had 14 points, Marko Gujanicic posted 11 points and eight rebounds, and freshman point guard Marquise Moore steadied the team during each rocky half.

“We played terrible and we won,” Wright said. “We won off our defense. . . . Ugly win, pretty win, as long as we win.”

The Patriots were coming off a pretty win: 76-70 over formidable Northern Iowa on Saturday. This one was ugly from the start and, except for a few stretches, never improved.

“We weren’t ready from the first moment,” Gujanicic said. “I am glad we showed some defense and effort.”

The Red Flash (1-4), picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Northeast Conference, shot 38.6 percent from the line (10 of 26). They were worse from the field (30 percent) and three-point range (25). Malik Harmon and Dominique Major combined for 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting; the rest of the team was 7 for 32.

Leading 25-20 at halftime, the Patriots improved their efficiency by making 9 of 17 field goals. Ahead by three, they embarked on a 15-2 run. Gujanicic established himself inside, Vaughn Gray made a three-pointer and the Red Flash continued to miss free throws.

Johnny Williams hit two midrange jumpers and, after a timeout, capped a crisp possession by collecting Corey Edwards’s interior pass and dunking for a 49-34 lead.

The follies returned, but the Patriots were never threatened in becoming the second squad in program history to win their first four games.

“Offensively, we looked like we were lost,” Wright said. “Luckily, our defense was good enough to win the game.”

Notes: Guard Bryon Allen, who has missed two games with a knee injury, is “feeling better,” Hewitt said, and might return soon. Forward Jonathan Arledge (sore back) is “in pain, and it’s all about what he can manage.” Forward Erik Copes has two games remaining on his suspension. . . .

The Patriots on Saturday will visit Iona (1-2), which lost at Kansas on Tuesday. . . . George Mason’s soccer team, which won the Atlantic 10 men’s title Sunday, was honored during a first-half timeout. The Patriots, unbeaten in 12 straight, will play an NCAA tournament first-round match Thursday at William & Mary.

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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