George Mason continues to stockpile victories and hold a share of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, but almost every game these days is an arduous exercise. The latest taxing triumph came Wednesday night, a 72-62 decision over Hofstra that just as easily could have swung the other way.
The Patriots (20-6, 12-2) ended the inelegant game on an 18-6 surge, led by sophomore Sherrod Wright, who made a go-ahead three-pointer and posted two additional baskets against the Pride (8-18, 2-12).
George Mason shot 65 percent in the second half, won the rebounding battle and received significant contributions from the reserves. But the team didn’t execute well and lacked toughness — vulnerabilities that even the weakest opponents are exploiting.
“It hit me today on the bench,” Coach Paul Hewitt said. “I’m sitting there going like, ‘These guys aren’t afraid of us.’ They’re running right through us. At some point, you’ve got to make a stand. You’ve got to set that screen and mean it. We tend to shy away from contact.”
The Patriots’ early softness resulted in a sputtering half-court offense and a passive defense.
Hewitt credited Paris Bennett, a sophomore forward in just his 10th appearance, for setting the team straight with four fundamentally sound minutes. “I gave him a shot and he turned the game around,” Hewitt said, citing Bennett’s screens and passes. “We finally got some flow offensively and continued to execute the rest of the way.”
Although they weren’t able to pull away, the Patriots rediscovered their rhythm in front of 4,343 in Fairfax.
“I thought we were more focused in the second half,” said Wright, a reserve guard who had 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting and a team-high seven rebounds. “Coach gave us a big-time speech that they’re not afraid of us. Once we become more physical as a team from the start, we won’t have these problems all the time.”
Ryan Pearson shot 7 for 9 and led the Patriots with 16 points, but he and front-court partner Mike Morrison had just two rebounds apiece. Andre Cornelius, a 5-foot-10 guard, bettered each of them with three.
Mike Moore, the CAA’s leading scorer, had 18 points for Hofstra, which two weeks ago yielded a 7-0 game-ending run to the Patriots and lost by five on Long Island.
“We did some great things, keeping the game close and really defending,” Pride Coach Mo Cassara said. “It was a bunch of little things that hurt us.”
Nathaniel Lester’s three-point play put Hofstra ahead, 56-54, with 5 minutes 52 seconds remaining, but Wright received a pass behind a solid screen and made a three-pointer late on the shot clock. He then finished a fast break.
Later, with the Pride within four and 1:39 remaining, Wright converted an alley-oop inbounds pass from freshman Corey Edwards (seven assists) and hit the ensuing free throw for a 67-60 lead.
“Me and Corey are always looking for that,” Wright said. “He’s always yelling, ‘Look at me, Sherrod, look at me. You’re going to get one.’ I said, ‘All right.’ Finally he saw me, I looked at him, and we got the easy basket.”
And with it, the Patriots won for the 13th time in 15 games, secured their sixth 20-win season in nine years and remained even with Virginia Commonwealth and Drexel atop the CAA.
After Saturday’s visit to UNC Wilmington (9-15, 5-9), the Patriots will host VCU on Tuesday in the first of two meetings between programs that have reached the Final Four in the past six years.