George Mason had their 14-game home winning streak snapped on Saturday in an overtime loss to Northern Iowa. The Panthers were able to expose some of the Patriots more glaring weaknesses; point guard play and perimeter defense. UNI’s Marc Sonnen had way too many catch and shoot opportunities from the behind the arch. The Patriots never made him put the ball on the floor or try and force him into uncomfortable situations. On top of that, late fouls really set Mason back, Erik Copes fouled out very early and it hurt them on the boards. The last couple of sequences before the overtime period was especially frustrating and puzzling to watch. I feel like I’ve said that a lot already this season. Late in games recently, I can’t remember watching a Mason team come out of timeouts so poorly on offense in a close match.
Mason had their opportunities to win despite their mistakes in this one but the issue at point guard seems to be getting worse. Corey Edwards got his second start but Bryon Allen played most of the second half and overtime. The last play before overtime was not Allen’s best moment and he failed to even put Mason in position to even get a shot off. Earlier in the night, players were open all over the court and neither Allen nor Edwards seemed to be able to find them. Marko Gujanicic and Patrick Holloway were left open a couple of times and never got the ball. How badly did this team need those two guys to get more shots off in this one?
Not all of their problems were due to Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards though. Something that was easy to notice in this one was how Mason’s bigs seem to have trouble catching the ball in the post. I’ve criticized both Allen and Edwards for not giving their supporting players the ball in good spots but Copes, Williams and Arledge all seem to have trouble simply just catching a pass in the post. The lack of consistent post scoring is starting to take it’s toll and you can’t blame all of that on the play from the point guards. It’s a factor but it’s also due to Mason just really not having much there offensively. Sherrod Wright is doing great but think of what he could do with a solid post player complementing him every game.
The Patriots defensive efforts continue to be a half by half thing in turns of production. In the first half on Saturday they forced a ton of UNI turnovers and had them off their game a bit. In the second half they continuously fouled and left guys open on the perimeter. It wasn’t the first time we saw something this occur in a game for Mason this season. I’m still undecided on if the full court press is really helping the team this season. Before Saturday’s game they had the conference’s best field goal defense but too often it seemed like UNI was breaking the press with ease. It has helped them force a lot of turnovers and create some fast break points but it also seems to make them play sloppy later in games. When the fouls start piling up and it’s double bonus time at the free-throw line, things have can unravel quickly for this group.
The real issue here on defense is Mason not having a good on-the-ball defender, think of a shutdown corner in football. Andre Cornelius was one, John Vaughan was one, even Cam Long was a better one than what this team currently has on the roster. Vertrail Vaughns is most experienced but hasn’t looked great on either end of the court this season. When UNI’s Sonnen continued his tear in the second half Hewitt put Sherrod Wright on him and it didn’t make much of a difference.