Mason keeps rolling, but hard road looms.
Patriots seek to avoid skid down stretch that cost them last year
williamsburg — George Mason completed another superb January of basketball Saturday, overwhelming William & Mary, 85-69, at Kaplan Arena for its season.
Senior guard Cam Long continued his month of excellence with 20 points and the Patriots (17-5, 9-2) used another decisive run bridging both halves to pull away after intermission. They shot 53.6 percent from the field and 86.4 from the free throw line. They committed just four turnovers and had five players score in double figures.
“Right now, we feel we are clicking really well and we’re playing together,” forward Mike Morrison said. “Our confidence is real high right now and we are just trying to keep it rolling.”
During the streak, primarily against lower-tier conference opponents, the Patriots have won all but one game by at least 15 points. However, four of their next five CAA matchups are against teams with winning records, including visits to Fairfax this week by Hofstra and Old Dominon. The Pride and Monarchs handed George Mason its only conference losses.
There will also be a Bracket-Busters road game against a strong nonconference foe, a made-for-TV event that could end up having a significant impact on the Patriots’ national portfolio. George Mason, which on Monday will learn its opponent for the Feb. 19 game, entered the weekend at No. 30 in the Ratings Percentage Index.
At this point last season, the Patriots had taken advantage of a soft schedule to win 10 of 11 in league play before going 2-8 overall the rest of the season.
The difference this year, the Patriots believe, is maturity and balance. Against the Tribe (6-16, 2-9), the starters combined to shoot 25 of 44, score 73 points and not commit a turnover. Sophomore swingman Luke Hancock made 6 of 8 shots and had 17 points, while junior forward Ryan Pearson contributed 15 points and seven rebounds.
In the first half, the Patriots shot 57.1 percent but were a step slow on defense, struggling to stop the Tribe’s penetration, deceptive cuts and trademark backdoor combinations. George Mason led by eight early but fell behind midway through the half.
The Tribe was “doing so many good things offensively that we were going to have to respond offensively,” Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga said. “Our defense, as good as it could have been, it was going to be our offense that needed to respond.”
Long and Andre Cornelius provided the electrifying finish to the half as part of a 10-2 surge for a 42-37 lead. Cornelius (13 points) made a three-pointer, and after a William & Mary basket, Long tapped in his own miss and Cornelius darted between defenders for a two-point lead.
With six seconds left, Pearson blocked a baseline bid by Quinn McDowell (16 points, eight rebounds). Long gathered the loose ball before it bounced out of bounds, realized he had time and then charged downcourt before releasing a three-pointer from the top of the key. Swish.
“I was going to just launch it [from beyond half-court], but I finally found the clock and was able to drive it and get closer to the basket,” said Long, who scored at least 20 points five times this month.
It was the third time in a week that the Patriots had finished the half with a flourish. On Monday, they scored nine straight before the break as part of an 18-0 run at Delaware, and on Thursday they compiled 15 in a row against Towson, then scored eight straight to start the second half.
The blitz continued on this day, as well. Cornelius made a threepointer and Hancock’s steal led to Long’s fast-break dunk to cap a 15-2 run.
No longer able to find holes in George Mason’s defense, the Tribe had to rely on long-distance shooting. The tactic pulled the hosts within six, but Long’s blistering drives and the Patriots’ fluid ball movement pushed the lead to 15 with eight minutes left.
“We just couldn’t stop them, quite honestly,” Tribe Coach Tony Shaver said. “So many weapons on the floor.”