George Mason, facing a Virginia Commonwealth squad that had lost its last six games by a total of 14 points, was unable to cope with Phil Stinnie's 20 points or the Rams' trapping defense and lost, 77-68, last night before 3,251 fans at Patriot Center.

After trailing by 14 points in the first half, George Mason (6-5) rallied to halve that deficit on a jumper by Brian Miller and closed to 50-43 with 10:06 to play.

But Virginia Commonwealth (2-6) scored 15 of the next 20 points, including four apiece from Stinnie and Don Franco, to put the game out of reach.

"Give VCU credit. They fought us off," said George Mason Coach Joe Harrington, whose team lost close games earlier this season to Maryland (one point), Boston University (two) and Arkansas-Little Rock (three).

"We weren't as aggressive as we should have been and we played horribly in the first half," he said. "You can't expect to beat anybody by playing well for half a game."

The Patriots, who turned the ball over 12 times and shot just 48 percent in the first half, were also hurt by the absence of junior forward Darrin Mosley, admitted to Commonwealth Doctors Hospital in Fairfax Sunday following a choking spell earlier that day.

"We really could have used him," said Harrington. "Darrin is a great athlete, and this was the type of game he would have excelled in."

George Mason did not get good performances from its top two leading scorers. Senior forward Rob Rose (12 points) took just six shots from the field. Guard Ricky Wilson made seven of 13 shots but turned the ball over four times.

Although the Patriots eventually outrebounded Virginia Commonwealth, 29-20, the Patriots got just 28 points on inside moves.

"Coach (Mike Pollio) told us to play aggressively, and we did," said Stinnie, who made 10 of 11 shots from the field. "In the past six games, we just seemed to lose control. That happened a little again tonight in the second half, but we fought back."