For years, George Mason has been the gold standard in the Colonial Athletic Conference. It is the mid-major that made it to the Final Four, the team that inspires the likes of Hofstra, which is what made the Pride's 87-74 win Wednesday night so uplifting.
"This morning, I didn't expect it, but coach asked me when was the last time we beat George Mason," said Charles Jenkins, the Hofstra senior. "I was a senior in high school the last time it happened. It was in my mind the whole time during the game. There were about 30 seconds left in the game and coach wanted to take me out, I said, 'No, I want every minute of this.' "
In fact, by the time Jenkins was done scoring 32 points with 9-for-13 shooting, 12-for-14 free- throw accuracy, eight assists and five rebounds, you could make a case that he is the conference's new gold standard. Just like everyone else, the vaunted George Mason team knew that it had to stop Jenkins - one of the nation's leading scorers - and still couldn't do it.
Jenkins, with his 23-point second half that kicked into high gear after the visitors had jumped to an 8-0 start after intermission, is the main reason Hofstra is the lone 3-0 team in the conference, ahead even of George Mason (2-1).
"I think it sends a tremendous message that we're here, we're going to keep battling and keep working," Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said at a news conference, sitting between Jenkins and Australian transfer student Brad Kelleher. "I don't think anybody thought we would be 3-0 right now, including three of us sitting here right now."
Beating George Mason (10-4) never is a good bet, even though the Patriots aren't the team that reached the 2006 Final Four - after having lost late in the regular season to Hofstra, the Pride's only win over a ranked opponent. Wednesday night was arguably Hofstra's biggest win since.
Hofstra (9-5 overall) didn't buckle when it was down 20-10 in the first half or 43-39 to start the second. All along, it just seemed like one of their nights, especially when Kelleher made a 30-foot three-pointer at the first-half buzzer for a four-point lead. "I just threw it up there," he said, adding, "That was a perfect way to end a great first half."
When George Mason, which was led by former Christ the King's Ryan Pearson with 22 points, focused on Jenkins, he dished to someone else. Shemiye McLendon (13 points), Kelleher and Mike Moore (11 each) and Greg Washington (10) all finished in double figures. The signature sequence, though, was all Jenkins. He made a layup to give the Pride a 63-48 lead, then stole the inbounds pass and scored again. The Mack Complex was jumping, even during intercession. "It was kind of like a 50-50," Jenkins said. "If I didn't get the steal, I probably would have gotten yelled at."
Instead, the yells he heard were from the fans who chanted "N-B-A" at him, within earshot of two pro scouts. "As I've said many, many times," Cassara said, "we're a work in progress."
This night, there was work and progress.