Paul Hewitt was both satisfied and troubled by George Mason’s defensive performance Saturday. On the bright side, the Patriots limited Hofstra to 22.9 percent shooting overall and four field goals in the first half en route to a 57-46 victory in Fairfax, a result that vaulted them into third place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
But Hewitt’s crew also continued to commit an alarming number of fouls. The Pride scored just as many points from the free throw line as the floor and managed to stay within striking distance until the closing minutes in front of 5,810 at Patriot Center.
In the first half, Hofstra made one basket in the last 14½ minutes, but because of the fouls and free throws, the Patriots (11-7, 4-2) led by just eight at intermission. They later found themselves tied.
“It’s something we recognized throughout the half,” Hewitt said of the semi-gratifying defensive display. “It was like, ‘Hey, guys, stop fouling, stop fouling, move your feet, stop fouling.’ ”
The Patriots committed 25 fouls, marking the fourth consecutive game and 10th in the past 12 with at least 20. They are averaging almost 20 per game.
“We’re still fouling too much, but overall we fought through all the adversity,” said junior guard Sherrod Wright, who had 21 points. “The fouling has got to stop. That is the next step for us to take our game to the next level defensively.”
The fouls turned the game into a choppy, laborious affair. Hofstra was 11 of 48 from the field, including 1 of 13 on three-pointers, but 23 of 31 from the line.
“We always talk about how fouling negates your hustle,” Hewitt said. “Our pressure was as good as it has been in a while,” but the Patriots resorted to stabbing at, and grabbing for, the ball.
“Some of the calls you can question, but the vast majority of them you can’t,” he added. “We’ve been talking about it since the Virginia game [in the season opener] and we’ll keep talking about it until we get it through our heads that we’ve just got to stop fouling.”
Taran Buie’s three-pointer gave the Pride (5-13, 2-3) an 8-5 lead, but the visitors shot 1 of 18 the rest of the half — and the only made basket was a layup.
The Patriots’ press forced a few turnovers and shortened the Pride’s possession time. Hofstra missed a bundle of inside shots but took advantage of Mason reaching on defense.
“Their depth, their bodies, and their style of play really wore us down and forced us into some quick, tough shots,” Pride Coach Mo Cassara said.
The Patriots built an 11-point advantage but in despite Hofstra’s woeful shooting, they had to settle for a 31-23 lead at intermission.
Both teams were awful at the start of the second half — five turnovers and 2-of-9 shooting in the first three minutes — and the Pride tied it at 33.
The Patriots reclaimed the lead, but continued to play in mysterious ways. Bryon Allen passed up a breakaway layup to flip the ball backward to Marko Gujanicic, whose shot was promptly blocked. A minute later, on a second straight missed free throw by Hofstra, two Patriots failed to corral the rebound without any pressure, resulting in a Pride jumper.
The Pride stuck around before committing six turnovers in four minutes. Mason was up 47-38 on Allen’s drive and, after a flurry of poor possessions, Corey Edwards hit a baseline jumper off an inbounds play as the shot clock was about to expire to put the game out of reach with 2:10 to go.
The Patriots visit second-place Towson on Wednesday.