By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 11:44 PM
Following George Mason's 87-68 victory over Hofstra on Wednesday night, Coach Jim Larranaga didn't want to address his team's eight-game winning streak -- the Patriots' longest since the magical run to the Final Four five years ago - or the fact that his team had steamed into a first-place tie with Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association.
For perspective, Larranaga, a master storyteller well known for referencing fables and parables to make a point, told a winding tale of competing lumberjacks: one who cut down trees non-stop, the other who took periodic breaks and ultimately boasted a greater haul.
What in the name of the NCAA does tall timber have to do with basketball?
"We call it sharpening our saw," he said. In essence, success is achieved by pacing oneself.
"With us," he explained in simpler terms, "we have got to be smart about gaining some valuable rest and be focused physically, mentally and emotionally for our next game."
With league favorite Old Dominion coming to town Saturday for homecoming, the Patriots (18-5, 10-2) will need to rest and re-sharpen after an exhausting effort against the Pride (14-9, 8-4) and Charles Jenkins, the nation's sixth-leading scorer.
They did a lot of running. On offense, the Patriots increased the tempo to build a 15-point halftime lead. On defense, they retreated quickly to prevent Jenkins from scoring in transition.
Before exhaustion set in, Andre Cornelius scored a season-high 22 points and Ryan Pearson contributed 19 points and 12 rebounds. Cam Long (15 points) and sixth man Isaiah Tate (12) pestered Jenkins into 8-of-20 shooting for 22 points, and the Patriots made 10 of 18 three-pointers, including four straight by Cornelius before halftime.
To the delight of 5,230 fans, Mason improved to 11-0 at home, set the season mark for points and forged a tie with VCU, which was upset by Northeastern, 91-80, in Boston.
Tate's aggressiveness against Jenkins got himself into foul trouble, but after intermission, he was the Hofstra guard's primary tormentor.
"With players like that, you've just got to make sure they are not shooting a great percentage because he is going to shoot regardless. I was able to contest most of them," he said. "He still almost got his average [23.3], but I think he had a pretty rough night."
The first half was played at a furious pace, with the Patriots equaling their season high for points in a half. Jenkins's impact was felt with scoring and passing - he's also the CAA's assists leader - but as the half unfolded, Mason crowded him and forced difficult shots. Midway through the half, Tate forced turnovers on consecutive possessions.
"Charles can't be good, he has to be almost spectacular because we don't have a lot of other answers," Pride Coach Mo Cassara said. "As a team, they were terrific defensively."
The Patriots went ahead to stay on Pearson's three-pointer, a shot inadvertently assisted by a referee, who was in the way of a deflection that landed in the Mason player's hands. Without the carom, the Pride might've had a fast break opportunity.
Cornelius, who had five three-pointers at Delaware last week, led a 30-13 run with three deep shots. "I was just hyped so much," he said. "My teammates did a good job finding me on the break. I was able to shoot, and I had to make it."
When Jenkins present, no lead is safe. But he started the second half the same way he finished the first: with an airball under duress. Mason stretched the margin to 20 as Luke Hancock (seven assists) set up Mike Morrison for a pair of dunks and then hit a three-pointer.
The pace slowed, Jenkins warmed up, and the Pride pulled within 11 with seven minutes left before Tate's seven points sparked a 14-3 surge.