George Washington, playing its best basketball of the season, gave woeful George Mason a painful lesson in the fundamentals of the game last night much to the delight of a sparse Smith Center crowd of 750.

Curtis Jeffries and Mike Zagardo keyed a superlative defense that completely unnerved George Mason in the first half and the Colonials enjoyed a 104-79 frolic for their fourth straight victory.

Zagardo won his inside battle against his 6-foot-10 counterpart Andre Gaddy with no sweat, grabbing a Smith Center record 15 rebounds and scoring 24 points. Jeffries, the smallest player in the Colonial starting lineup but the tallest man in Coach Bob Tallent's game plan, had 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals.

"He (Jeffries) played just a super game," said Tallent. "He's a valuable link to this team. We would be hurting without him."

It was easy to see why Mason came into the game with a dismal 2-13 mark. The Patriots forgot just about everything they might have known about the game. They forced shots, committed one turnover after another and gave an artful imitation of statues on defense.

"We had been playing pretty good defense. We lost to Madison by two and North Carolina A & T by two in our last two games," said GMU Coach John Lian. "But we just didn't get started. You can't get behind the good teams. The first three minutes are crucial."

How true tonight. With just three minutes elapsed, The Colonials (12-5) led, 9-0, following a Curtis Smith 15-foot jumper. With six minutes gone, GW led, 15-4, and with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the error-prone Patriots had fallen behind, 27-6.

While the hot-shooting hosts were hitting from all over the court, the Patriots were going through their Alphonse-and-Gaston comedy act. They missed 14 of their 17 shots and threw the ball away 12 times in allowing GW to grab its big lead.

Jeffries had three steals and 10 points, Smith eight points Zagardo seven and Brian Magid hit three from the parking lot to help the Colonials roar ahead, 40-18, with three minutes to play in the first half.

"Curtis is the key. He makes things happen to defense," said Magid, who finished with 18 points."He hustles and everyone gets up to play. We've got three tough games in a row (Rutgers, Villanova and Virginia Tech at home) so it's important we play well as a team. The last few games, we've played very well."

While the Patriots earned a failing grade in most aspects of the game, they did get an "A" in hustle. Two baskets each by Terry Henderson (16 points) and Kevin Jackson and a layup by Dave Skaff in the waning minutes of the half made the score respectable at intermission, 44-31.

While GMU was regrouping, a fan sank a half-court shot to win the $1,400 shootout prize. Some folks were ready to cry foul when his name was announced: It was Mike Tallent, the GW coach's brother and the 12th-leading scorer in the school's history.

Even in street clothes, he could have helped the Patriots in the second half. Back-to-back steals and layups by Henderson, brother of Houston Rocket guard Tom, narrowed the deficit to 44-35. Those baskets only made the Colonials angry.

GW tightened up on defense, forced some more turnovers and ran off a 15-5 spurt to get comfortable again, 59-40, with 13:55 to play. Jeffries, Smith and Zagardo had six points each in the spurt.

That blitz seemed to kill whatever fight was left in the Partiots. They seemed content to trade baskets for the remainder of the game.

"I was surprised they tried to run with us," said Jeffries. "I thought they might slow down. I guess they wanted to push the ball up and get it inside to Gaddy."

Gaddy, averaging 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, did not get his first field goal until the eight-minute mark of the first half. He finished with 14 points and four rebounds.