Paul Hewitt has witnessed these perplexing stretches time and again since he became George Mason’s coach last year: The Patriots play to full capacity and then slide into a prolonged spell that allows a secure lead to dwindle.
The Patriots surged to a 17-point lead in less than eight minutes. Sherrod Wright was outscoring the Retrievers on his own. The ball movement was fluid and the defense was forcing a torrent of turnovers.
And then it all came to a halt. UMBC scored the last nine points of the half to slice a 19-point gap to 10, then pulled within six about six minutes after intermission.
“It’s kind of the personality of this group,” Hewitt said, “and we have got to try to break it.”
The Patriots (6-3) did break it over the final 10 minutes, maintaining a double-digit lead, but it was another incomplete performance.
“It is starting to get annoying,” said junior forward Jonathan Arledge, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half. “We are trying to stop letting up, stop taking our foot off their throat and keep punishing teams, but we just get lazy on defense.
“We are working on it,” he added. “We are going to get it, hopefully next game and the game after that . . . ”
Wright then interrupted to say, “and for the rest of the season.”
The Patriots, coming off a seven-point loss to Maryland on Sunday at the BB&T Classic, were very good at the start. Wright made three three-pointers and had 13 points in the first eight minutes as Mason built a 21-4 lead.
Wright finished with 8-for-11 shooting for 23 points, one shy of his career high. Reserves Arledge and Marko Gujanicic combined for 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Patriots, who won for the 32nd time in the past 33 home games. They shot 58 percent in the second half and outscored the Retrievers 20-4 at the free throw line but also sputtered for about 12 minutes.
“We came out focused and shared the ball really well,” said Wright, a junior guard. “We just lost intensity. We’ve been doing that consistently this year: Once we get up, we relax a little bit. We can’t let up all the time.”
“We have got to improve that position,” Hewitt said. “We’ve just got to get better. All options are available.”
Hewitt suggested using Vertrail Vaughns, a junior shooting guard, to run the offense on occasion. Vaughns started all 33 games last season but had been coming off the bench this year until not appearing at all in the Maryland game. On Tuesday, he played 12 minutes and didn’t score.
Arledge’s nine points in three minutes helped the Patriots reestablish control midway through the second half and Gujanicic scored seven late points, including a crushing three-pointer, to seal the outcome.
The Patriots will host Northern Iowa at 6 p.m. Saturday before taking a two-week break.