Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Teams Heading in Opposite Directions

Early on in the CAA conference season, about a little over two weeks ago, two teams battled it out in the Patriot Center. George Mason would come from behind in the second half to defeat Hofstra 67-63. After the game, Mason was 3-0 in conference, Hofstra was 1-2 in conference. Based on the game and the preseason CAA poll, it seemed both teams would be competitive for a first round bye spot in the CAA Tournament.

But a lot can happen in two weeks. And in this case, it did. The Patriots would lose their next game against Northeastern but have not lost since and entered the game with a 6-1 record in conference. The Pride would win their next game vs. Towson, but haven't won since. They entered the game 2-5 in conference. Thus tonight, on ESPNU, you had the tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. And tonight's contest, only reinforced that tale.

Coming into this game, the two teams have developed somewhat of a rivalry since the 2005-06 season. That of course is the season where Hofstra swept Mason in the season series. This included the infamous semifinal of the CAA Tournament where Mason's Tony Skinn punched Hofstra's Loren Stokes in an oh so sensitive place after Hofstra had rallied back in the second half. The season where Mason made the NCAA tournament while Hofstra was snubbed. The season that Mason made the Final Four.

Since then, Hofstra won the next game in the 2006-07 season. only for Mason to upset Hofstra in the CAA Tournament Quarterfinals that season. Since then, Mason has won the next three regular season games as well. Which leads us into tonight's game on national TV.

Early on, it seemed like this game was a mirror image of the first game. It was close throughout the first half. However the pace was a lot different from the first game. It reminded me a lot of the VCU-Hofstra game from last Tuesday night, a high scoring pace. The first telltale sign was Mason hitting on three of their first five three point attempts against a team, Hofstra, that was second in the CAA in three point FG percentage defense at 26.6 percent. The second telltale sign was the score was already 22 all with 7:27 left in the first half. In the first game, it was 23 all at halftime.

Hofstra could not keep up with the pace as George Mason would outscore the Pride 16-8 the rest of the way and take a 38-30 halftime lead. After Charles Jenkins hit a layup to cut the lead to 25-24 with 6:13 left, Hofstra went into one of its typical scoring ruts. The Pride would only hit two of their last nine shots while the Patriots would hit five of their last nine shots. Mason would end up being 6 of 10 from three in the first half. If Hofstra wanted to win, they had to tighten up their defense.

Well, the Hofstra defense went from bad to worse at the start of the second half. Within the first three minutes, Long scored five of Mason's first nine points and the lead was 47-33 with 17 minutes left. If it wasn't Ryan Pearson having Halil Kanacevic for lunch on the inside, it was Cam Long putting on a show. During a slightly over four minute span, Long would score 10 points culminating in a three pointer to put Mason up 67-51 with 8:20 left.

The Pride would make a comeback with a 10-3 run to trail 70-61 with 5:34 left. But the Pride would get no closer, as Charles Jenkins' three pointer rimmed out with the Pride trailing by ten, 72-62 with 4:17 left. Once from there, Mason would score the next six points and the Hofstra fans headed for the exits in droves. The final score was George Mason 90 Hofstra 72.

In fact, a large contingent of Mason fans at the game started chanting the Goodbye song. You know "Na na na, hey hey goodbye". In all the years I have been at Hofstra games, I can't remember an opposing team's fans ever doing that at a Hofstra home game.

The Patriots scorched the CAA's leading FG percentage defense by shooting 18 of 24 in the second half. Long had 17 second half points going 5 of 5 from the field to lead all scorers with 27 points. Pearson had 11 second half points and ended up with 19 points and 9 rebounds and Andre Cornelius also had 11 second half points and ended up with 18 points. The Patriots shot 55 percent from the field for the game.

Hofstra had thirteen more field goal attempts than Mason due to outrebounding the Patriots 38-32. However, the Pride shot their season average 40.7 percent. Jenkins had a very good game with 26 points on 8 of 18 shooting and 10 of 12 from the line. Chaz Williams was 8 of 13 including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc for 20 points and Miklos Szabo had a double double with 14 points on 6 of 12 shooting and 12 rebounds. But the rest of the Pride shot an abysmal 5 of 24 from the field.

The effort by the Pride, especially on the defensive end was terrible. And Mason outhustled them on most loose balls. It was Hofstra's second consecutive poor Tuesday effort on ESPNU following last week's thirteen point loss to VCU. This outing was even worse as outside of Jenkins and Szabo, the Pride's veteran players gave poor performances. Nathaniel Lester is going deeper into a funk. Lester only attempted four field goals on the game. Cornelius Vines played so badly in his eleven minutes, he didn't even play in the second half. And Greg Washington had zero points in fifteen minutes. Combined scoring total of those three players - two points.

Hofstra is now 2-6 in the CAA and 9-11 overall, having lost eight of their last ten games. Meanwhile Mason looked terrific and had its highest scoring output of the year. The Patriots are now 7-1 in conference, guaranteed of a first place tie going into Saturday's action and 12-7 overall.

For Hofstra, a Saturday road game against their fellow former America East rival Drexel, currently 4-3 in the CAA, awaits them. Not an easy matchup for a team desperately needing a win. As for George Mason, they too are on the road on Saturday. But a much easier matchup awaits them - last place Towson.

The win for Mason was their fifth straight win against Hofstra. And there may not be much hope for Hofstra breaking the streak next season. The entire Patriots starting lineup returns next season and only one player, the now seldom used Louis Birdsong graduates.

It may not be much of a rivalry anymore. Such is the case when you have two teams heading in opposite directions.

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