Neither George Mason nor William & Mary rang in the New Year with a celebratory win. Only one of the two schools figures to be even remotely happy with where it stands nearing the halfway point of the season.
Less than 48 hours after succumbing to Northeastern's scorching shooting performance, the Patriots must recharge against the CAA's top scoring team that also won its conference opener. Yes, we are talking about the Tribe (7-6, 1-0), who already have more victories this season than during their previous campaign.
Perhaps a trip to Williamsburg will spark George Mason (7-5, 0-1) in the second of three Saturday afternoon college basketball games on Comcast SportNet. After a noon matchup featuring Delaware traveling against fellow CAA program Old Dominion, the Patriots and Tribe tip at 2 p.m. followed by an ACC tilt at 4 p.m. pitting visiting Florida State (8-5) against Clemson (8-4).
Considered the CAA frontrunner after turning in a credible performance during the non-conference slate, the Patriots loss to the Huskies - George Mason's first conference defeat at home in 19 games - signaled that status requires further examination. Another loss would give the Patriots their first three-game losing streak since the 2009-10 season, and drop them to 0-2 in the CAA for the first time in six seasons.
Leading Northeastern 37-30 at halftime, the Patriots surrendered 54 points in the second half as the Huskies shot a stunning 64.3 percent (18 of 28) from the field including 6 of 9 on 3-pointers.
George Mason's early lead came in part due to its own shooting prowess in the first half, but both accuracy and intensity wavered during the second half. Leading 63-62 with 5:20 remaining, the Patriots fell behind by being on the wrong of an 11-0 run.
"That's who we are offensively," Patriots coach Paul 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."
The Tribe aren't entering the contest on a high note themselves, having dropped two straight on the road against power conference programs Purdue and Vanderbilt. Regardless and even with an overall soft schedule, William & Mary has already proved formidable.
In addition to pacing the CAA schools in scoring (68.7), the Tribe lead the way in scoring margin, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, defensive 3-point percentage, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio (1.0) and defensive rebounds.
Sophomore guard Marcus Thornton ranks third among conference scorers with 17.9 points. The former Bishop McNamara star led the Tribe with 14 points against Vanderbilt and had 21 versus Old Dominion in their CAA opener back on Dec. 1.
On Wednesday against the Commodores, William & Mary was within seven points with seven minutes before losing 64-50. Seventh nationally in 3-point shooting defense, the Tribe held Vanderbilt to 33.3 percent (8 of 24) from beyond the arc.
George Mason has won two straight over William & Mary, holds a 37-27 all-time series lead and hasn't lost in Williamsburg since the 2001-2002 season.