The topic arose again Thursday, a persistent problem chasing George Mason as it uninspiringly seesaws through this forgettable edition of the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Patriots, deep and athletic, couldn't collect rebounds when it mattered. They didn't do much better when it really didn't matter.
And so it went right down to the final seconds in a 58-54 loss to Drexel, when Mason could have earned one last chance to tie it when a missed free throw caromed off the rim and then a Patriot before landing out of bounds.
Mason (12-9, 5-4 CAA) every bit reflects its record, slightly above average but not at all memorable. Rebounding isn't its lone bugaboo, but it surely cost the Patriots in losses to UNC Wilmington and now the Dragons (9-12, 5-4).
"It’s fixable," coach Paul Hewitt said. "You just have to ratchet up your intensity level, ratchet up your attention to detail in terms of boxing out. We’ll get there."
Those assurances sound better in November, even December. The season arc isn't entirely obvious, trends aren't fully formed. There is room to grow.
There still is, but at this stage Mason is a known commodity. So many games are a coinflip, as Thursday's was before Damion Lee's go-ahead 3-pointer with 22.2 seconds left. And despite a frontcourt with options, it is telling the Patriots' leading rebounder entering the night was guard Sherrod Wright.
The junior ceded that honor to Erik Copes on Thursday, but the point remains that Mason's interior presence is fleeting. Drexel managed 12 offensive rebounds to the Patriots' eight defensive rebounds in the second half, which partially explained what happened to a lead that stood at 13 at the break and 20 in the first half.
"They played harder than us, especially on the boards at the end," Hewitt said. "We have to address that issue, getting a big rebound at the end of a game. Especially when we have leads and we’re playing from ahead. We can’t allow people to just be more physical and want the ball."
This isn't a one-time problem. Mason ranks next-to-last in conference games in defensive rebounding percentage (.6166), barely ahead of Northeastern (.6162).
Yes, the Huskies occupy first-place. They also make up for allowing foes longer possessions by eviscerating opponents from 3-point range. Mason does not.
"We just have to rebound together and everybody’s got to want to rebound," forward Jonathan Arledge said. "Everybody’s got to want to get it. That’s all we have to work with."
Oddly enough, rebounding wouldn't have mattered if Mason's offense continued plowing along as it did for much of the first half. The Patriots arguably turned in their crispest 16 minutes of the year, building a 33-13 lead and flummoxing the Dragons with good decisions and pressure defense.
But Drexel broke the press. Then Mason's shot selection grew poorer. And by the time the under-8 timeout arrived in the second half, a 20-point edge was gone and Bruiser Flint could dream of escaping Fairfax with a rare victory.
"This has been a house of horrors for us," Flint said. "We've lost some huge games in here. I mean, some serious butt-whuppings up in this joint."
This time, Drexel had a counterpunch. This time, Mason had no answer.
This time, the Patriots' woes on the boards caught up with them again, just as it likely will again without a fix Hewitt insists can be made this deep into the season.
Mason would be wise not to wait much longer for a correction.
"We didn’t rebound the ball," Hewitt said. "It’s that simple."
Solving the problem, though, hardly seems easy for the Patriots' increasingly known commodity.
--- Patrick Stevens