From the first day of practice, Lefty Driesell made man-to-man defense his No. 1 priority. "We can worry about scoring anytime," Driesell has said repeatedly. "Our main concern is locking some people up with defense."
Maryland locked up George Mason last night for the first 15 minutes, playing extraordinary defense to take a 20-5 lead. The Patriots never fully recovered and the Terrapins scored a 74-62 victory at Cole Field House.
"We played excellent defense in that first half," Driesell said afterward.
Maryland (4-0) held the Patriots to 43 percent shooting from the field -- 36 percent in the first half, forced 17 turnovers and generally took George Mason out of its offensive game plan.
By contrast, the Terrapins shot 54 percent from the field and had four players score in double figures. Freshman Adrian Branch led the Terrapins with 19 points. Freshman Jeff Adkins and sophomore Herman Veal each scored 14.
Andre Gaddy, George Mason's 6-foot-10 center, scored a game-high 22 points and guard Andy Bolden had 20. But the Patriot starting forwards scored just five points and made just one of 11 field goal attempts.
The Patriots (2-2) and their coach, Joe Harrington, formerly an assistant at Maryland under Driesell, thought they had a good chance at upsetting Maryland.
But Maryland's early defensive performance pierced those hopes.
Maryland took a 4-0 lead and forced Mason to work four minutes, before Bolden made a 20-foot jumper. Four more minutes elapsed before George Mason scored again on a three-point play by Bolden.
Meanwhile, Branch, Adkins and Herman Veal were pushing the Terrapins to a 20-5 lead. Forward Terry Henderson's finally scored another jumper to end a five-minute scorless stretch.
Gaddy didn't score his first points until 6:40 was remaining in the half. Driesell employed an effective "sag" defense that kept Gaddy away from the basket. Terrapin center Charles Pittman played in back of Gaddy, and either forward -- Veal or Branch -- sagged back to front Gaddy.
"That sagging was kind of hard to deal with," said Gaddy.
What made the strategy even more effective was the non-production of the Patriot forwards. "They weren't looking for the shots," Harrington said. "I did everything I could think of during that (20-5) stretch. We ran three different offenses. But the ball just wouldn't drop."
Maryland held a 36-25 lead at halftime, getting a four-point swing at the end of the first period. Mason played for the last shot of the half, and missed. Pittman grabbed the rebound and threw a long pass to Reggie Jackson, who scored a half-ending layup.
The Terrapins got in foul trouble early in the second half, and backed off some defensively. Driesell even implemented a zone for several minutes to keep Pittman, who eventually fouled out, from committing his fifth foul.
Mason made some crisp passes and worked the ball to Gaddy, who sank five straight shots against the zone to pull within 45-41 with 11:50 to play.
But Jackson started a 13-1 Maryland surge with a driving, hanging bank shot over three Patriot defenders for a 47-41 lead.
"It was a situational thing," Jackson said. "The whole left side was cleared out. I'm the senior. It's something I should be doing all the time. It was a crucial basket, not only because of the points, but because we played good defense the next time down, and got the ball back."