Fairfax, Va.- Senior guard Mike Moore scored 18 points and the Pride held a lead in the final six minutes but couldn't stop a comeback as George Mason University defeated Hofstra, 72-62, in a Colonial Athletic Association matchup on Wednesday night at the Patriot Center.
CAA Player of the Year candidate Ryan Pearson scored 16
points for the Patriots and Sherrod Wright posted 12 points and seven rebounds
as the Patriots swept the season series from the Pride. Hofstra fell to 8-18
and 2-12 in CAA play while Mason improved to 20-6 and 12-2.
"I thought we found a way to come out strong and get a lead and I felt the final score wasn't a good indicator of how well we played," Hofstra head coach Mo Cassara said. "We continued to find a way to hang in the game and just made a couple of defensive breakdowns down the stretch."
Senior forward Nathaniel Lester scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds, including a clutch three-point play to give Hofstra a two-point lead with 5:52 left. Junior guard Stevie Mejia contributed 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting off the bench, marking the third time he's scored in double figures for Hofstra and his first such game since Nov. 26 against Cleveland State.
Sophomore forward Stephen Nwaukoni recorded eight points and eight rebounds. Yet Mason forward Mike Morrison scored 10 points to find answer for Hofstra near the glass. The Patriots out-scored the Pride in the paint, 36-20.
Down by as much as six points in the second half, Lester helped Hofstra-regain the lead on a three-point play. Lester drew a foul on Morrison on the low left block as he hit a basket. Following the made free throw, Lester extended Hofstra's lead to 56-54 lead with just less than six minutes to play.
“I thought our defensive intensity was great, we battled really hard,” Cassara said. “We’re going to have to find different ways to win.”
But Wright, whose layup gave Mason the lead for good in the first meeting's late moments, hit a long right-wing three for a 57-56 Mason lead. The shot galvanized the Patriots as McMillan had his shot blocked next trip down, leading to a fast break and a Wright lay-in . After another Hofstra turnover, Morrison drew the foul in the pain and hit both free throws for a 61-56 Mason edge with 4:13 left, opening up a two-score lead.
Mason never let Hofstra get closer than a two-possession game. Morrison hit a layup with three Hofstra defenders in the vicinity. The Patriots then forced Mejia to put too much on a shot off the glass, allowing Mason to march down the court and score on a Pearson three-point play for a 64-58 lead with less than three minutes.
Mejia converted a layup, though Mason scored a back-breaking basket when Wright scored off an in-bounds pass with three-seconds left on the shot clock as part of a three-point play and a 67-60 lead with 1:39 remaining.
Hofstra drew Pearson's third foul with 15:58 left and the Pride down 38-37. The Pride used the momentum to tie it at 41 on Moore's mid-range jump shot. But Mason went on a 10-2 run, capped by Pearson's jumper to put the Patriots ahead, 51-45, midway through the second half. The Pride mounted one late run, though couldn't hold Mason off the scoreboard in losing its fourth straight the Patriot Center.
Hofstra utilized a small lineup featuring Moore, McMillan and Mejia on the court at the same time for an almost three-minute stretch in the first half as Cassara employed different looks to give the Pride an advantage. The move paid dividends as Moore poured in 10 points and Lester scored seven, lifting Hofstra to a 32-31 halftime lead. That marked the second time this season the Pride took a one-point edge into the break in the season series, as Hofstra also forged a 20-19 lead at the half when the two teams met last month in New York.
With his basket 4:15 into the second half, Moore eclipsed the 1,500 career point mark. He now has 1,506 career points, including 513 in his first two seasons at Fordham.
The Pride trotted out the same starting lineup for the 15th consecutive game, going with McMillan and Moore at guard and Lester, Imes and Nwaukoni at forward.
Hofstra will play another road game against a CAA team tied for first place when the Pride takes on Drexel on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Philadelphia. The Pride fell to the Dragons, 56-50, at home on Jan. 18.