Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ignoring the Elephant in the Room (Recap of Hofstra vs George Mason)

I was reluctant to write this recap. How could I, as a George Mason fan, write about a Hofstra/Mason game, for a Hofstra fan's blog, without either annoying 75% of the audience of this blog, or annoying myself? I'm not sure I can, especially with Defiantly Dutch's simmering hatred for Mason undoubtedly hovering nearby. But I like playing with fire, so I'm going to try it anyway.

The first half was pretty much a rerun of so many other CAA rockfights from recent years. Erik Copes scored Mason's first field goal of the game. Hofstra went ahead 8-5 early on a Taran Buie three-pointer, helped out by 4 Mason turnovers in the first 4-plus minutes. But then, the Pride offense went into a funk, missing their next 13 shots and 3 of 5 free throws as the Patriots built a 21-10 advantage with 7:29 left in the half.

After a Hofstra time out, Daquan Brown made a layup, the visitors' fourth and final field goal of the first half. However, Mason's foul-prone defense conceded 11 free throws, and the Pride converted all 11, allowing them to keep pace with the Patriots offense.

At the half, the visitors only trailed 31-23, despite shooting a horrendous 4-25 from the field (compared to 11-25 for the hosts). The Pride made exactly one field goal in the final 14 minutes of the first half, but 14 (of 18) made three throws, compared to 7 (of 12) for the Patriots, kept them in the game.

The second half began just as many Patriots fans feared: Mason continued to look out of sync on offense, while the Pride looked energized, and began to attack the 8-point deficit. The home team had let the visitors hand around too long, and there was no way Hofstra was going to shoot 16% again in the second half.

Mason was held to one field goal in the first 5 minutes, while Stevie Mejia and Steven Nwankoni combined to score ten points, tying the game at 33 apiece at the under-16 media timeout. The Hofstra bench and the small band of Pride fans behind it were ecstatic, but Sherrod Wright had other ideas, scoring the next four to retake a lead that the Patriots would never relinquish.

The teams traded baskets for the next two minutes, but Mason began to settle in on defense, turning up the full court pressure and creating steals. Buie cut the lead to 4 at the ten minute mark, but Hofstra didn't score another field goal for eight minutes, giving up an 11-2 run that pretty much ended any hopes of a comeback.

In the late minutes, the Hofstra defense failed to get back in transition and were beaten several times, capped by a Sherrod Wright (who scored 21 points for his CAA-leading ninth 20-point game) scored on a breakaway dunk to make it 55-44 with 1:09 to play, and from there, the Patriots largely ran out the clock, winning 57-46.

The Pride only made 11 of 48 field goals for the game (including 1 of 13 three-point attempts), finishing with an astounding 22.9 shooting percentage. However, their 23 points from the field were augmented by an additional 23 from the free throw line, which served to keep the Pride in the game well into the second half, and the final score (somewhat) respectable. The Pride won't win if they can't shoot better than they did in this game, but their hustle and effort to tie the game early in the second half won my respect. It was evident before and during the game that Mo Cassara has done a lot to motivate and encourage his players in the face of what's been a very trying season.

One positive for George Mason continues to the the shooting of sophomore point guard Corey Edwards. He doesn't shoot a lot -- 3.1 attempts per game -- but he's shooting a team-leading 54.5% from the field (Wright is second at 50.5%) and an amazing 11 of 17 on three-point attempts. Edwards' prowess can be attributed to his patience. He almost never rushes or forces a jump shot, instead making sure he's squared to the basket and his feet are under him.

On the other hand, two areas seem to be the Patriots' constant sources of pain and frustration: finishing at the rim, and defending without fouling. Mason's starting big men, Johnny Williams and Erik Copes, finished 1 of 9 from the field, and both are shooting around 40% for the season. Copes has been slowed by his recovery from offseason hip surgery, but Mason fans expected much more from Williams in his return from a medical redshirt year. The Patriots need one or more of their post players to step up, whether it be Copes, Williams, Jonathan Arledge (who finished with 8 points and 7 boards on Saturday), Serbian freshman Marko Gujanicic (the reigning CAA rookie of the week), or even the rarely used Paris Bennett (hero of the ODU win).

Fouling, meanwhile, has been a team-wide problem. The quality of CAA referees isn't always very high, and some games in recent memory were clearly over-officiated, with even the whisper of contact called as a foul. That didn't seem to be the case on Saturday, at least in my eyes. The officials allowed quite a bit of contact under the basket, and they made their share of questionable calls in both directions, but the Patriots have no one but themselves for most of the 25 fouls they accumulated.

If Mason can cut down on their fouls while maintaining defensive intensity, their ability to hold teams' shooting percentages in check will start to pay off. If they continue to foul, there will be many more nights like Saturday, where a team hangs around solely because of the charity stripe.

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