George Mason has not enjoyed a smooth start to the season, but when all else failed, the Patriots could usually count on defense to bail them out. The offense would come around this winter, they figured, and when it did, they would make a serious push for the title in a weakened Colonial Athletic Association.
But if Thursday’s league opener was any indication, the Patriots are going to have a difficult time getting to the NCAA tournament. Porous and uninspired throughout the second half, George Mason was shredded down the stretch by Northeastern, 84-74, for its first CAA home loss since late in the 2009-10 season.
“The one thing we have been able to do all year was defend at a particularly respectable level,” said George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt, whose team had been conceding the fewest points in the CAA (61.1). “But the second half, they had their way.”
Trailing by seven at intermission, the Huskies (6-7, 1-0) proceeded to shoot 64.3 percent from the field and make 6 of 9 three-pointers to post 54 points.
They scored 11 straight in less than two minutes to turn a one-point deficit into a 73-63 lead with about three minutes remaining. Zach Stahl, a freshman averaging 6.2 points, started the surge with a three-pointer and ended it with a three-point play as part of his 15-point performance in the second half.
Jonathan Lee finished with 20 points and Quincy Ford added 18 for the Huskies, who scored 30 points in the last 71 / 2 minutes.
In the second half, “We were just fortunate enough to get the game more on the perimeter with some zone pressure, create some turnovers and generate some easy baskets,” Huskies Coach Bill Coen said.
Northeastern was sensational from long range, but the Patriots (7-6) did not offer much resistance. They allowed the Huskies to penetrate and kick the ball outside for open three-pointers and score in transition.
Despite a halftime lead, George Mason showed signs of trouble when play resumed.
“We didn’t come out with the same intensity,” said junior guard Sherrod Wright, who had 19 points, ending a streak of four consecutive games with at least 20. “It’s been an on-going habit. In the second half, sometimes our intensity drops. We have just got to make sure we stay focused and lock in throughout the whole game.”
The Patriots had held the Huskies without a field goal for almost five minutes late in the first half and led by nine before Northeastern’s Derrico Peck made a layup with five seconds to go.
George Mason’s inability to increase the lead and Peck’s late basket “gave them the momentum going into the second half,” said sophomore guard Corey Edwards, who tied a career high in assists with seven. “It went downhill from there.”
After the break, “you could see they had a little more bounce than us,” Hewitt said.
The Huskies needed less than four minutes to tie the game, and after the Patriots regained a six-point lead midway through the half, Northeastern took advantage of George Mason’s sloppiness and casual defending.
The teams combined to make six three-pointers in a four-minute span, but the Huskies had greater offensive balance. George Mason’s rhythm disintegrated, resulting in just one two-point basket over almost 10 minutes.
Junior guard Vertrail Vaughns made three three-pointers and had a season-high 13 points for the Patriots, who will play at William & Mary (7-5, 1-0) on Saturday afternoon.
Blake Jolivette scored 16 points and Stephen Lumpkins added a double-double as host American University defeated winless Maryland-Eastern Shore, 63-49, in nonconference action.
Lumpkin had 10 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high five assists for the Eagles (5-9). Daniel Munoz added 11 points and John Schoof 10.
Troy Snyder was the lone Hawk to score in double figures, finishing with 13 points. Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-12) has lost 15 straight dating back to last year.
American outrebounded the Hawks, 36-26.