The Patriots hit the road for two games after beating NJIT.
BY GABRIEL KING, SPORTS EDITOR
Mason men’s basketball defeated NJIT 86-68 on Wednesday night at EagleBank Arena to improve their record to 6-1. The Patriots overcame early struggles and foul trouble to pull away from the Highlanders in the second half.
“These games are hard to come by. I’m just happy certain guys were able to step up,” head coach Tony Skinn said. Mason needed significant contributions from their bench due to starting guards Jared Billups and Keyshawn Hall being limited because of foul trouble. Billups ended the first half with three fouls and would eventually foul out of the game.
The bench contributed 28 points compared to only 13 points from the NJIT bench. This proved to be a major difference between the two teams. Among the bench players that stepped up for Mason was Malik Henry, who recorded nine points and five rebounds in just 10 minutes.
“I think it’s really cool having guys come off the bench, like Baraka [Okojie], Woody [Newton] and Malik [Henry]. And they really affect the game,” starting guard Darius Maddox said. Maddox delivered a strong performance of his own, scoring 17 points on 58.3% shooting. Maddox has now scored in double figures in five of the seven games this season.
The matchup was also a bit personal for Skinn, as one of his good friends, Grant Billmeier, is the head coach at NJIT. The two worked together as assistant coaches at Seton Hall from 2018-21 and at Maryland from 2022-23. Skinn said that Billmeier was a “huge part” in getting him the job at Seton Hall, which helped propel him to his current position at Mason.
“I know how [Billmeier] coaches his guys up. I expected them to give us a fight. We responded in the second half and showed who we are,” Skinn said. After only outscoring NJIT by one point in the first half, the Patriots outscored the Highlanders 54-37 in the second half, while also holding them to 27.6% shooting.
This defensive identity continues to be a focal point for Mason, as they lead the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense and opponent field goal percentage. Aside from the first half success, NJIT was the latest victim of Mason’s stifling defense. Guards Elijah Buchanan and Adam Hess were the only Highlanders to shoot at least 50% from the field, and they scored 28 and 15 points, respectively.
The Patriots will now travel to face Toledo in their first true road game of the season on Saturday. “We’re going to be tested. I’m looking forward to it, road games are not easy,” Skinn said. After Saturday’s game at Toledo, Mason will travel to face #10 Tennessee. That will be the Patriots’ first game against a nationally-ranked opponent since they played #15 Auburn to begin last season.