BY DOMENIC ALLEGRA SPORTS EDITOR
On Saturday, the Patriots fell to Norfolk State in their last game of their non-conference schedule.
“You can’t win games if you can’t take care of the ball and make free throws,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “That was really, really disappointing. We just didn’t have the kind of leadership and composure that we need to have.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
FAILED INBOUNDS PLAYS ARE A COMMON THEME
Men’s basketball has had its fair share of failed inbounds plays over the years, but another was added last game.
“It wasn’t quite as open a look as we wanted and I thought we’d get the offensive rebound, get a kick out and another three, [but] you can’t think about that play,” Paulsen said. “The time before, we called a timeout and I diagramed a play that we run all the time in practice … and [we] completely butchered it. So it was really, really poor execution down the stretch.”
If this team continues to struggle on these types of plays in close games, the Patriots might be in trouble come conference play.
MASON STRUGGLES TO CLOSE OUT GAMES
The Patriots led by 17 at one point during this game. They also led by 13 with 9:40 to play, but unforced turnovers and poor free-throw shooting plagued Mason.
Mason committed 13 of their 17 turnovers in the second half and shot under 60 percent (9-17, .529) from the free throw line for the third-straight game.
“There were [a lot of] like, trying to hit home run passes rather than just simple plays,” Paulsen said. “Trust me. If there’s two things we do a ton of, we shoot free throws and we stress taking care of the basketball. It’s got to sink in and it’s got to become reality. It’s got to get better and the guys have to have a greater level of focus for 40 minutes leading into conference play.”
The Patriots have struggled ever since they came back from their quarantine.
“I thought [the past couple games were] ragged sloppy,” Paulsen said. “I attribute some of that to lay off and, you know, the quarantine, but this is a third straight game where we had a double-digit lead, we just showed no composure and dodged bullets against VMI and Towson. But we need to get better, get better leadership, get a better understanding of where the ball needs to go and how to play with the lead … We start, you know, the meat grinder of [getting ready] for A-10 play, but this one hurts. There’s no doubt about it.”
KOLEK CAN LEAD THIS TEAM
One bright spot from this past game was freshman Tyler Kolek. He continues to step up where veteran players struggle.
Five of the six Mason threes came from Kolek, who poured in a career-best 19 points to go along with five rebounds and a personal-best four assists in 35 minutes on the floor. The freshman leads Mason in three-point field goals made this season and is second on the team in assists.
“I thought he played really well,” Paulsen said. “He missed some shots down the stretch, but I think he’s got way more in him. Every time he shoots I think: [it’s] going in. He can do more than that — he can pass, he can rebound. So we just need him to continue to get better and lock in and I think good things will happen.”
Mason is scheduled to return to the court on Dec. 30, opening conference play against UMass.