The Washington Times - January 12, 2012, 10:59PM

PHILADELPHIA | George Mason rolled into Thursday night with a real chance at creating separation in the CAA.

Instead it picked the wrong time —- and the wrong opponent —- to offer a scattershot approach.


The Patriots crumbled on offense in the closing stretch of a 60-53 loss to Drexel at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, suffering their first conference loss of the season.

“They out-toughed us at the end to get that win,” Hewitt said

More telling, the Patriots (12-5, 4-1 CAA) scored only 11 points in the final eight minutes against the stingy Dragons (11-5, 3-2), who completed a sweet of George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth.

Freshman Damion Lee scored 21 points —- 16 in the second half —- for Drexel, which does not have to play either the Patriots or the Rams on the road this season.

That’s hardly a concern at the moment for Mason, who have plenty to dissect after falling in front of a frenzied sellout crowd of 2,532.

It was a second straight shaky offensive night for forward Ryan Pearson, who is 1-for-13 from the floor in the last two games. The usual standbys on the perimeter, Andre Cornelius and Vertrail Vaughns, combined for one 3-pointer.

Yet the greatest scrutiny will remain with the final four minutes, when the Dragons erased a 51-50 deficit and in the end wound up with the largest lead either team enjoyed.

Mason managed only two points in its final eight possessions. When the Patriots didn’t turn it over, they forced shots and looked haphazard just a week after handling a boisterous environment at Old Dominion with aplomb.

“I just felt like we were rushing,” guard Bryon Allen said. “We weren’t playing the way we were in the first half. In the first half, we were definitely tougher than them. In the second half, we just started to get too lackadaisical.”

Mike Morrison scored 10 points to lead Mason, which fell to 26-5 overall and 15-2 against CAA opponents when the senior forward reached double figures in scoring. Both losses to conference foes came at Drexel.

The modest offensive output was no surprise considering the Dragons’ well-deserved reputation for stout defense and physical play. Intriguingly, it was Mason freshman Erik Copes who earned the most attention for his defense, blocking seven shots in the first half.

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint was displeased with his sputtering team early and saw a more vibrant bunch after the break. Key to that was Lee, a Baltimore product who matched his career-high in scoring.

None of his baskets were more important than consecutive 3-pointers shortly after the final media timeout to give Drexel a 56-51 edge.

“I guess the basketball gods were on my side tonight,” Lee said.

On the next possession, Lee’ long try rimmed in and out.  No matter. The Dragons already had enough to beat the fading Patriots, whose five-game winning streak ended.

“Just impatient,” Hewitt said. “Mike was scoring every single time. I just thought there were a couple possessions, one in particular right in front of our bench, when we started over-dribbling for no reason and turned the ball over. … [You] get to that point in the game where if you capitalize and execute you’ll probably go to the foul line or get a good shot for your guy who’s been going, who was Mike.”

It was a difficult lesson learned for Mason, which was dragged back into a three-way tie for the conference lead. Five more teams are within a game of the Patriots, who visit struggling James Madison (8-8, 1-4) on Saturday.

Hewitt couldn’t be unhappy with his bench production or Copes’ superb homecoming or Morrison’s stead play. But after three wins in six days last week, Thursday was  a sobering reminder the Patriots have plenty to improve upon in the next two months.

“I do like where things are going, but it’s hard to see that from where we’re sitting right now,” Hewitt said.

—- Patrick Stevens