Thursday, January 26, 2012

George Mason 55, Hofstra 50 (Or: They’re going out of their heads going crazy)

An appropriate song in more ways than one for the 2011-12 Flying Dutchmen.

If I were to rank losses to George Mason on a scale of 1 to 10—one being barely bummed and 10 being Quoting-Ugly-Kid-Joe-pissed—then last night’s 55-50 loss to the first-place Patriots would rank no higher than a five or so.

(I realize it’s not normal to rank losses to a particular opponent on a scale of 1 to 10. But you knew what you were getting into here)

There was no Greg Johnson, driving the lane in the waning seconds with Hofstra down three in the CAA Tournament and Antoine Agudio begging for the ball all alone behind the 3-point line. There was no Agudio missing the free throw that would have given the Dutchmen a four-point lead in the final seconds of overtime.

This was not a lopsided loss by 20-plus points in Fairfax. There was no drunken Mason grad nearly sending me to the other side on the way home from a close loss at Mason. And, of course, there was no Ryan Pearson piling on with Montgomery Burns rubbing his bony fingers together in approval as his nation of Waylon Smithers lackeys declared him the world’s finest sportsman.

No, this one ended with an exhausted Pearson—who scored seven points and pulled down eight rebounds in the second half despite having his face bloodied twice in the first half—exchanging a relieved high five at midcourt with a similarly spent Mike Morrison as Sherrod Wright hit the game-icing free throws to cap a nearly perfect night at the line for Mason (20-of-23—these aren’t Monty’s Patriots) with 19 seconds left.

A few seconds later, after Morrison blocked Shemiye McLendon’s running layup and Corey Edwards grabbed the rebound, new Mason coach Paul Hewitt waved for Edwards to get the ball over halfcourt—not so he could call timeout and draw up a 3-point shot like his predecessor would have, but to run the clock out!

It’s a new era in Hofstra-Mason games (last night featured, by far, the most entertaining in-game Twitter exchanges in DD history) but the loss was the same old story in a whole lot of ways as the Flying Dutchmen fell to 1-9 in the CAA with their SIXTH CAA loss by six points or less.

As has often been the case this year, the Dutchmen were at least partially done in by a lack of bodies. Mike Moore (18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point land, and a career-high six assists) and Nathaniel Lester (12 points, his CAA-best 14th straight game with at least 10 points) were a fine 1-2 combo again for Hofstra. But while Stevie Mejia, McLendon and Moussa Kone combined for just six points on 2-of-9 shooting in 52 minutes, Mason received 36 points on 9-of-22 shooting over 86 minutes from its reserves. No Mason player played more than 29 minutes while four Dutchmen played at least 28 minutes.

For the fifth time in the last six games, the Dutchmen raced out to an early lead of at least six points—and opened a lead of at least nine for the fourth time in that span—but could not build on it in the first half and squandered late opportunities to escape with the win.

For the third straight Wednesday, the Dutchmen came back from a second half deficit of at least eight points to tie the score or take the lead. And for the third straight Wednesday, the Dutchmen had a chance to tie the score or take the lead in the final minute but couldn’t get over the hump (get it?).

Moore, Lester and Mo Cassara looked steamrolled at the podium, and it had nothing to do with losing to big bad Mason. Every loss hurts at this point, and this funk doubly stings because it consists mostly of close losses to the best of the CAA.

Five of the Dutchmen’s last six games have come against teams currently in the top half of the CAA. The Dutchmen have lost those five games by a combined 33 points, and only once by more than six points.

“I think our energy and our effort’s been great,” Cassara said. “We’re winning at halftime against George Mason. We’re winning at halftime at Old Dominion. We’re down three at VCU. We just run out of gas a little bit, I guess. We’re going to have to keep trying to find ways to finish games, because we’re coming out with energy, we’re having great practices, our attitudes have been terrific. We just can’t seem to kind of get over the hump.”

The Dutchmen had more opportunities than usual to do so Wednesday. The Dutchmen scored the first nine points, didn’t allow Mason—which shot an unimaginable 4-of-23 in the first half—to break into double digits until there were less than three minutes to play and led 20-19 at the half. It was the first time the Dutchmen allowed fewer than 20 points in a half since Jan. 21, 2009, when they TRAILED William & Mary 17-15 at the Arena.

Andre Cornelius took charge for Mason to open the second half with consecutive 3-pointers to jumpstart a 19-10 run for the Patriots that gave them a 38-30 lead at the midway mark. But the Dutchmen inched back, tied the game twice on 3-pointers by David Imes and Moore and took the lead at 41-40 with 6:21 left on another 3-pointer by Moore.

That was the first of four times the Dutchmen took the lead over a span of a little more than four minutes. Imes, who scored all nine of his points in the second half, put the Dutchmen ahead twice with long jumpers from the corner, the last with 2:16 left.

But Sherrod Wright’s 3-point play with 1:47 left put the Patriots ahead for good at 51-50 and the Dutchmen missed an agonizing three shots—a jumper and a 3-pointer by Lester and a 3-pointer by Moore, all of which looked good out of their hands—before Edwards’ two free throws. Then, after Cassara used the Dutchmen’s last timeout with 27 seconds left, Mejia got a good open look at a tying 3-pointer, but it clanged off the rim.

That left Cassara saying the same things he’s been saying for weeks—bemoaning the Dutchmen’s rotten luck and hoping they salvage something from the season in February. “We’re better than our record shows,” Cassara said. “Again, we’ve been in an incredible amount of close games. We just haven’t been able to get something to bounce our way.

“Unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to finish and it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Cassara said. “But we have to keep working. February can be our month. I have to keep telling our guys that. Obviously, we’re frustrated because we’re in every game, especially against the top part of the league. But basketball’s a long season and we’ve still got a good month of February [ahead].”

3 STARS OF THE GAME (vs. Mason, 1/25)
3: Mike Moore
2: Nathaniel Lester
1: David Imes

Mike Moore 46
Nathaniel Lester 32
Dwan McMillan 17
David Imes 11
Shemiye McLendon 9
Stephen Nwaukoni 8
Stevie Mejia 5
Moussa Kone 2
Bryant Crowder 2

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