Recently Paul Hewitt ranked consistency from his offense atop his basketball wish list. One game into the New Year, George Mason's coach is still longing for steady scoring. However, based on how his defense guarded the 3-point line in the Patriots CAA opener, there may now be competition for the top spot.
Northeastern shot a stunning 64.3 percent in the second half including 6 of 9 from beyond the arc, and pulled away late with an 11-0 run for a stunning 84-74 win over George Mason on Thursday night at the Patriot Center.
The loss snapped the Patriots' CAA home court winning streak at 18 games - and raised plenty of questions about the status of the supposed conference frontrunner.
The Patriots (7-6, 0-1 CAA) led by as many as nine in the first half, 37-30 at halftime and 63-62 following Vertrail Vaughns' 3-pointer with 5:20 remaining. However, by this point the momentum was already on the visiting bench.
The more energetic team coming out of halftime, Northeastern (6-7, 1-0) scored 54 points in the second half by making 18 of 28 shots, befuddling the Patriots with constant penetration and kick out passes to its bevy of perimeter shooters. Overall the Huskies shot 9 of 16 (56.3 percent) from 3-point range.
“One thing we’ve done all year was defend at a pretty respectable level. But the second half they had their way,” George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “They were tougher taking the ball to the middle of the floor and making plays.”
In this case, making plays largely meant making shots, though the Huskies slowed what early on was a potent Patriots offense. Playing at its desired up-tempo pace, George Mason shot 53.6 percent in the field and the 37 points represents a new season-high. After halftime, the Patriots shot under 40 percent and returned to their haphazard ways.
"We just didn't come out with the same intensity," said guard Sherrod Wright, who led the Patriots with 19 points. "It's been an ongoing habit. In the second half sometimes our intensity drops."
Northeastern freshman Zach Stahl countered Vaughns' 3-pointer with one of his own, putting the Huskies ahead for good. Moments later Quincy Ford drained his third 3-pointer of the game. With the Patriots down 70-63, Hewitt called timeout, but it didn't help. The margin ballooned to 10 before George Mason scored again and Northeastern eventually led 78-67.
"You look a whole lot better when the ball is going in the basket," said Northeastern's modest coach Bill Coen. As it turns out, Coen was also the last coach to win at the Patriot Center when the Northeastern beat George Mason on Feb. 27, 2010.
Stahl, one of three Huskies to finish 2 of 2 from beyond the arc, scored a surprising and career-high 15 points. Jonathan Lee led Northeastern with 20 points and Ford had 18.
Vaughns scored a season-high 13 points and made three 3-pointers after sinking only one from distance over the previous six games. Corey Edwards finished with eight points and seven assists, five coming on George Mason's first 10 field goals.
Regardless of those contributions, Hewitt's postgame comments sounded like a coach resigned to a roller coaster offense even with more than half the season remaining.
"That's who we are offensively," Hewitt said. "We're going to have some nights where we go up and down, but we can't give up 64 percent from the floor in any half."
Hewitt must now prepare his team for a quick turnaround with a game Saturday at William & Mary. That doesn't leave much time to work extensively on both sides of the ball, but after this loss, the Patriots have no choice.