But when they were bad, they were really bad.
Fortunately for Coach Paul Hewitt, the finer moments outweighed the distressing stages and produced a 67-61 victory in front of 4,147 in Fairfax.
Ryan Pearson had 20 points and 12 rebounds and Bryon Allen scored a career-high 17 points as the Patriots (16-5, 8-1) won for the ninth time in 10 outings to remain a game ahead of Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion and Drexel at the midway mark of the Colonial Athletic Association campaign.
Two days after laboring to a 12-point victory over winless Towson, the Patriots overcame a poor start and 1-for-16 three-point shooting to extend their winning streak over the Seahawks to eight.
“We talked before the game: ‘Hey, look, you are in first place by yourselves. You’re going to get the best shot everybody has to offer and you have to stand up and play with some confidence,’ ” Hewitt said. “Maybe I made them look down. You’re climbing up a mountain and all of a sudden you look down, you get a little nervous. We talked about how we have to relish the opportunity.”
The Patriots, the CAA’s highest-scoring team at 71.5 points per game, wasted nearly the entire first half before flexing their muscles. After scoring 11 points in 14-plus minutes, eventually leading to a seven-point deficit, they embarked on a 19-2 surge bridging halftime.
Shortly after intermission, the Patriots turned three consecutive steals into a three-pointer and two breakaway dunks, triggering Seahawks Coach Buzz Peterson to call two timeouts in a 36-second span.
“When guys are doing things right, everybody is hyped and has that energy and motor to keep going,” Pearson said.
The prosperity fizzled, however. The Seahawks cut the deficit to one and missed two opportunities to take the lead.
“We thought we put a pretty good punch on them at the start of the second half,” Hewitt said, “but they battled right back into the game.”
Allen’s acrobatic layup and ensuing free throw pushed the lead to 47-43, and after the Seahawks hit two free throws, the Patriots used a 9-2 run to build a nine-point cushion with 5:48 remaining.
UNCW tested the Patriots again, but Allen penetrated for a pair of baskets, and with the lead down to five with 35 seconds left, his drive drew two defenders and left Mike Morrison alone for a follow-up dunk.
“We were struggling from the three, but that left gaps for me to penetrate – and that’s what I like to do best,” said Allen, a sophomore point guard who was averaging eight points. He scored 13 in the second half and shot 7 of 10 overall.
The Patriots limited Keith Rendleman, who was averaging 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, to seven and eight, respectively. “Whether it’s their height of Morrison or weight of Pearson, it caused him to go outside a little bit,” Peterson said.
Freshman guard KK Simmons came off the bench to make three three-pointers and score 18 points for the Seahawks, who have lost four of five. Freshman guard Adam Smith had 15 points in the second half after missing all seven field goal attempts in the first period.
“8-1 is great,” Pearson said. “We’ve got to keep working. We can’t get comfortable.”
Patriots notes: George Mason will visit Hofstra (7-14, 1-8) on Wednesday and host James Madison (9-11, 2-7) on Saturday afternoon. . . . Freshman forward Erik Copes missed his fourth straight game with neck and back pain, suffered in a fall at Drexel two weeks ago. . . . The Patriots are 10-1 at home.