Since its last game, an impressive showing against Wake Forest nearly two weeks ago that resulted in an overtime loss, George Mason had more than enough time to build on the performance and prepare for its home opener last night against Creighton in the first meeting between the teams.
But against the Bluejays, the defending Missouri Valley Conference champions and participants in six of the past seven NCAA tournaments, the Patriots hardly resembled the team that was on the floor against the Demon Deacons. George Mason committed 16 turnovers that led to 26 Creighton points and shot just 29.1 percent , leading to a 72-52 win for the Bluejays at the Patriot Center.
Four Creighton players scored in double digits, including 12 each from guards Nate Funk, Johnny Mathies and Nick Porter. Sophomore guard Folarin Campbell and senior guard Tony Skinn led the Patriots with 14 points apiece.
"For whatever reason we were not focused as a team," said Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga, whose record fell to 6-3 in home openers. "It showed in every category -- 8 for 24 [from the field] in the first half, 8 for 34 in the second half, 29 percent for the game, 22 percent from three, 55 percent from the foul line. You're not going to win any games shooting the ball like that."
In order for the Patriots (1-2) to be successful , they will rely on their three highly touted seniors -- Skinn, guard Lamar Butler and forward Jai Lewis. But aside from Lewis's career-high 17 rebounds, the trio each had games to forget, going a combined 7 for 33 from the field. Neither Lewis nor Butler made a field goal until early in the second half.
About one-third of the arena was full and a boisterous yellow-and-green clad student section cheered from the moment the Patriots were introduced. The team used the momentum to jump to a 4-0 lead, but they were then put on their heels by the Bluejays (2-0). Creighton went on a 9-0 run thanks in part to turnovers from Skinn and Lewis.
From there, Creighton used a three-quarter court press and consistent scoring to put distance between itself and George Mason. The Patriots cut the lead to 25-21 with just over six minutes to play in the half on the strength of five straight points by Campbell and a layup by forward Sammy Fernandez, but the Bluejays allowed George Mason no closer. They shot 45.8 percent in the first half and had 10 players in the scoring column by the time they took a 36-26 halftime lead.
"I think the layoff hurt us a lot, but we've just been playing ourselves," Campbell said. "We missed a lot of open shots, had back-to-back turnovers and just didn't play good."
The Patriots got as close as 45-39 on a Skinn free throw with 13 minutes left, but Creighton pulled away in the latter stages.
"It's a credit to Creighton that they were able to come in here and play as well as they did, but it's also disappointing to us to play as badly in our home opener," Larranaga said.
The loss was George Mason's third in three tries against Missouri Valley Conference opponents.
* VIRGINIA 59, RICHMOND 43: J.R. Reynolds scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half, including 10 in a 12-3 run that put the visiting Cavaliers (2-0) up for good.
The Spiders (1-1), in their first season under Coach Chris Mooney, followed a 44-40 victory against Hampton by again struggling on offense. They went 0 for 9 on three-pointers in the second half after making 7 of 15 in the first half.
* WAGNER 75, AMERICAN 59: The Eagles shot 21 percent in the opening half and had only two players reach double figures in scoring in Staten Island, N.Y.
The slow start -- American made 6 of 29 field goals in the first half -- helped the Seahawks (2-0) to a 28-15 lead.
Junior forward Brayden Billbe had 14 second-half points en route to a career-high 16 for American (0-2). He added a career-high 11 rebounds.
* ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK 61, NAVY 57: The Midshipmen trailed by two with under a minute to play before the host Trojans (1-1) pulled away in their first game at the $25 million Jack Stephens Center.
Navy (0-2) closed to 57-55 following the second of two straight three-pointers by Corey Johnson.
Zack Wright made a pair of free throws with 31 seconds remaining, and Johnson missed a shot in the lane. Elijah Muldrow made a free throw to push the lead to five.
Johnson had 16 points for Navy.
* CATHOLIC 86, HAVERFORD 66: Shane Sowden had 15 points and four blocked shots and Pat Satalin added 13 points to lead the Cardinals (3-0) in their home opener.