After staying close in a scrappy first half, La Salle got steamrolled in the second half of a 76-63 loss to George Mason on Saturday at Tom Gola Arena.
The first half wasn’t easy on the eye, but the strength of both teams’ defenses made that not too surprising. The Explorers (10-6, 1-3 Atlantic 10) entered the game ranked No. 36 nationally in three-point defense, while the Patriots (12-4, 1-2) were No. 55.
George Mason led for most of the half, but never by much. La Salle was up, 23-18, with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left, but the Patriots scored the last 8 points of the half and went to the locker room up 26-23.
The Patriots opened the second half with a 14-0 run in just over two minutes. The Explorers, meanwhile, made just one of their first 10 shots of the half. George Mason extended its lead to 52-32 with 10:57 to go and mostly cruised from there.
La Salle held George Mason to 10-for-24 shooting from the field in the first half, but the Patriots hit 15 of their 28 shots in the second half.
The Explorers gave up 22 points off turnovers and scored just 11.
Saul Phiri was La Salle’s top scorer with 19 points. Isiah Deas had just 2 points, snapping a seven-game streak of double-figure scoring.
Justin Kier led George Mason with 18 points.
“I feel like when you start off 9-3 and feeling good, and then guys go home and they spend time with their families and everybody’s telling them how great they are and how great the team is doing, you start to believe it," La Salle coach Ashley Howard said after taking longer than usual to come out out of the locker room.
“I always want my guys to fight and to have that competitive spirit, and I did not see it,” he later added. "I felt like we lost it for a stretch and then I had to try to figure out a way to find it, just so we could salvage the game today.”
Up to now, most of La Salle’s home games were against teams that were clearly better (Dayton, Temple) or clearly worse (most of the rest). George Mason was a team the Explorers’ own size to pick on: ranked No. 158 to La Salle’s No. 161.
The 14-0 Patriots run at the start of the second half had to really hurt. Even worse, George Mason’s offense isn’t all that great: It entered the game ranked 229th nationally in three-point shooting (31.7%) and 242nd in two-point shooting (47.1%).