Ma­son keeps rolling, but hard road looms.

Pa­tri­ots seek to avoid skid down stretch that cost them last year

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY STEVEN GOFF goffs@wash­

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.”

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