The Patriots faltered defensively in their third consecutive loss.
BY GABRIEL KING, SPORTS EDITOR
Mason men’s basketball fell to Loyola Chicago 85-79 on Wednesday night at EagleBank Arena. The Patriots (15-8, 4-6 Atlantic 10) led by eight at halftime, but were outscored by 14 in the second half. The loss is Mason’s third straight, all coming by single digits.
Despite shooting 59.5% from the field, turnovers and porous defense plagued the Patriots in the second half. The Ramblers (16-7, 8-2) shot 71.4% in the second half and scored 49 points in the second half, which was the most points the Patriots have allowed in a second half this season.
“We were just completely discombobulated defensively,” Head Coach Tony Skinn said of the team’s second half performance. Loyola capitalized on Mason’s defensive confusion, which proved to be the difference.
The Patriots took a three-point lead with 6:12 remaining on a 3-pointer from Baraka Okojie, but the Ramblers responded with an 8-0 run to gain control. Sheldon Edwards sparked Loyola’s late run with consecutive 3-pointers of his own. Edwards finished the game as the Ramblers’ leading scorer with a career-high 27 points.
Keyshawn Hall led Mason with 20 points as he continued his stellar season. Darrius Maddox added 18 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first half, and Okojie scored 15 points, with 10 of those coming from the free throw line.
This is Mason’s second three-game losing streak in the last month, with those six losses coming by an average of 5.5 points. Despite the recent struggles, the Patriots remain optimistic about the remainder of the season. “We’ve obviously lost a couple close nail biters… [but] there’s no need to fret,” Skinn said.
The Patriots’ fortunes may reverse shortly, as they are ranked 265th, out of 362, in the KenPom luck rankings, which project Mason to be better than their current record.
Along with the projected improvement, the Patriots see that they are close to a breakthrough. “We’ve just got to stay together and try to come in everyday and keep working towards winning. We know we can turn it around in an instant because we know we can compete in close games like this,” Hall said.
With the hopes of a top four finish in the A-10 dwindling, the Patriots must turn it around quickly. Mason currently sits ninth in the A-10, three games back of VCU for fourth place.
“At the end of the day, we’re not going to have a defeatist spirit. We’ve had a good season thus far,” Skinn said. The Patriots will return to action on Saturday at Davidson for a pivotal conference game. They will then come back home for their second game of the year against George Washington on Feb. 13. The Revolutionaries won the first matchup 75-62 in January.