George Mason’s most reliable trait disappeared in the second half Thursday night.
So did its winning streak in CAA openers.
Northeastern shredded the Patriots’ usually sturdy defense after the break, surging past Mason 84-74 before 3,724 at the Patriot Center.
Jonathan Lee scored 20 points for the Huskies (6-7, 1-0 CAA), who became the first team to beat Mason (7-6, 0-1) in a conference opener since Drexel in 2006-07.
It was a troubling performance for the Patriots, who allowed 54 points in the second half and 30 in the final eight minutes.
Northeastern shot 18 of 28 after the break, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range.
“One thing we’ve been able to do all year was defend at a pretty respectable level, but the second half they had their way offensively,” Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “They shot 64 percent, 66 percent from 3. Story of the game. They were tougher than us with the ball in the middle of the floor.”
Sherrod Wright had 19 points for Mason, ending his streak of four straight 20-point games.
He seemed well on his way to extending his run in the early going, collecting nine points in the first five minutes. And while he was quiet the rest of the first half, Mason still led by as many as nine and took a seven-point edge into the half.
Yet the Patriots were also encountering a feisty Northeastern bunch that is finally getting a chance to play together. Lee, a preseason first team all-CAA pick, played in only his fourth game since suffering a foot injury in an early practice.
“I thought this was the first time we had our full roster with guys who had game legs,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “There wasn’t a guy who was sick or had an ankle or this or that. We were about as healthy as we’ve been all year.”
The Huskies were also efficient, needing less than four minutes to wipe out Mason’s halftime advantage. Then Northeastern flummoxed Mason with a wash-rinse-and-repeat approach of driving into the middle, then kicking it out for an open 3-pointer.
That was the formula that busted it open entirely, as the Huskies uncorked a 11-0 blitz after Vertrail Vaughns gave Mason a 63-62 lead (its last of the game) with a 3-pointer with 5:19 to play.
The 84 points were the second-most the Patriots allowed in a regulation game in two seasons under Hewitt; VCU scored 85 points in a regular-season victory last February.
“We just didn’t come out with the same intensity in the second half,” Wright said.
Wild fluctuations —- from week to week, game to game and even half to half —- are a puzzling calling card of the Patriots in recent years. Yet for a dozen games this season, they’ve been able to rely on defense to give them a chance to win.
That figures to be Mason’s most likely strength even after its first double-digit loss of the season, though regaining it in time for Saturday’s trip to William & Mary is a priority.
“It’s something we should be able to correct,” Hewitt said. “The biggest thing for us is we have to focus on the next one.”
—- Patrick Stevens