|Around the Rim: Dragon Tales and Stan's Take|
The good, the bad and the ugly of the first 20 games of the season were on display in Thursday's 58-54 loss to Drexel at the Patriot Center. Not that George Mason can dwell on the disappointment of a loss after getting up 20 points late in the first half. There are road games Saturday against James Madison and Monday against Old Dominion.
"It's very difficult," said Sherrod Wright about emotions after Thursday's disappointment. "We've got to come together as a team, make sure we practice hard (Friday) to get ready for the next game. That's all we can do."
The good news is that, apart from CAA leader Northeastern (8-1), the Patriots (5-4) are among six teams closely bunched in the standings along with JMU (7-3), Delaware (5-3), Georgia State (6-4), Towson (6-4) and Drexel (5-4). And for the seven-team CAA tournament, Georgia State (leaving the conference) and Towson (academic progress rate) are among the ineligible schools.
Stan Van Gundy, a long-time NBA coach who was the color commentator for Thursday's game, predicts an interesting finish to the regular season and the CAA tourney.
"I like Paul's team," said Van Gundy of head coach Paul Hewitt. "They play really, really hard. Great intensity defensively. I thought their half-court defense was good. I thought their press was good. I thought their transition defense was a problem."
It was. Drexel held a 14-2 advantage in fast break points.
There were other difficulties that surfaced after Corey Edwards hit a contested three to give Mason a 33-13 lead with 3:45 left in the first half. At that point, the offense was clicking and the defense was stifling. Drexel made eight turnovers in the opening half, leading to nine Mason points.
"We got off to a slow start because they got up on us to start the game," said Drexel coach Bruiser Flint. "It had nothing to do with us missing wide-open ones. They were there and they were playing tough defense on us. I told them to stop panicking."
Late in the first half, Drexel started generating momentum, especially when Damion Lee hit a deep three at the buzzer to cut the lead to 13 at 38-25. In the second half, Lee went on a tear and the Patriots went cold.
The Patriots scored 16 points in the second half, on 7-for-25 shooting (25%). "They don't have a lot of scorers so they run into droughts," said Van Gundy, mentioning last year's senior trio of CAA Player of the Year Ryan Pearson, Mike Morrison and Andre Cornelius. "They lost a lot of guys from last year so they're missing some offense."
Lee outscored the Patriots in the second half with 20 points, finishing with 29 on 11-for-19 shooting. The dagger was a catch-and-shoot three from the left wing, after he ran Vertrail Vaughns through some off-the ball screens, to break a tie at 54 with 23 seconds left.
"Lee does that though," Van Gundy said of the 6-6 sophomore. "I think Lee is an NBA prospect with his size (6-6). I love Wright, but Lee's bigger and can shoot over the top. He was terrific the second half. He guarded Wright in the second half and I thought he did a really good job."
Wright , who shot 1-for-6 in the second half, finished with 15 points, 13 in the first half. The Patriots got 14 points from post Jon Arledge, starting in place of Johnny Williams, out indefinitely with a concussion.
The problem was rebounding in the second half. Mason went from a first-half advantage of 16-13 to a deficit of 26-12 in the second half. Drexel outscored the Patriots 11-1 on second-chance points.
"We played hard," Hewitt said. "They played a little harder than us, especially on the boards there down at the end. We've got to address that issue of getting that big rebound late in the game especially when we have leads and playing from ahead. We can't allow people to just to be more physical and want the ball more than us."
The boards have been a source of concern the whole season. Too many teams have gotten too many second and third chances during possessions. When asked Thursday if there's a solution, Hewitt replied:
"It's fixable. It's fixable. You've got to ratchet up your intensity level. You've got to ratchet up your attention to detail in terms of boxing out. We'll get there."