FAIRFAX –– It’s been a little over two weeks since George Mason saw its 18-game Colonial Athletic Conference home winning streak come to an end at the Patriot Center.
The Patriots defense wasn’t up to the task that night as a hot shooting Northeastern team walked away from Fairfax with an impressive 84-74 victory just days into the new year.
Since then, opposing teams haven’t felt exactly at home against George Mason and its all the Patriots doing.
First, George Mason held Old Dominion to an all-time program low 25 percent from the field in a lopsided 71-46 win. Next up was James Madison, who the Patriots limited to just 36.7 percent from the field in a double digit win.
Well that trend continued on Saturday evening as George Mason dialed up its best defensive performance of the season in holding visiting Hofstra to just 22.9 percent from the field in a 57-46 win that was perhaps a bit closer than it should have been.
Sherrod Wright had a game high 21 points in an otherwise balanced effort that saw no other Patriot reach double figures while ten of the twelve players coach Paul Hewitt called upon scored.
“I like to play a lot of guys,” Hewitt said, stating the obvious with a grin.
“Its one of my flaws I guess because offensively I’m not sure it helps us sometimes. Defensively it does add a little juice to the game.”
Defense added a lot of juice early on as George Mason (11-7, 4-2) went on 16-2 run in the first half to race out to a 21-10 lead.
Things didn’t get much better from there for the Pride (5-13, 2-3). Hofstra finished the first half making just four field goals on a frigid 16 percent shooting. Still, Hofstra hung around at the break, trailing just 31-22.
George Mason’s inability put the game away almost came back to haunt the Patriots as Hofstra was able to even the game at 33 early into the second half. The Patriots used a quick spurt by Wright and reserve Jonathan Arledge (eight points, seven rebounds) and pulled away with smarter defense.
The fouls began to disappear and with it, so did Hofstra’s chance at victory.
“We’re still fouling too much but overall we fought through all the adversity and got the win,” Wright said.
“We just played solid and stopped fouling as much. The fouling has to stop, that will be the next step for us to take our game to the next level defensively.”
George Mason committed 14 personal fouls in the first half which resulted in 18 free throw attempts for the visitors, who made 14. After picking up four quick team fouls, the Patriots were whistled just another seven times in closing out on a 22-11 run.
Coach Hewitt has a pretty good idea on where his stingy defense can improve.
“I know what we’ve got to do defensively. We’ve got to stop fouling.”
Other than that the defense has been extremely stout at home, even though Hewitt knows it’s more natural for players to focus on the other end of the court, especially with sporadic minutes.
“Kids get in there thinking if I score a couple of buckets I’ll stay out here longer,” Hewitt explained.
“That’s not what it’s about this time of the year. It’s about just giving everything you’ve got for however long you’re out there defensively and play offensively the right way.”
The Patriots will now look to play with that same defensive intensity on the road. George Mason needs to gain ground on teams such as Northeastern and Delaware as jockeying begins for the top seed at the CAA Tournament in Richmond.
Notes: George Mason narrowly missed out on holding Hofstra to a season low. The Pride managed just 44 points in a loss to Wagner in early December. Sherrod Wright has scored at least 20 in eight of the last ten games for George Mason.
Up Next: George Mason plays four of its next five games on the road, beginning on Wednesday in Baltimore against Towson (10-9, 5-1) at 7 PM. Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon leads the Tigers in scoring at 17.2 per game and the entire conference in rebounding at 11.7. The junior already has already posted 12 double-doubles and the nations only 20-20 game this season thus far.