Being in the Patriot Center tonight with the Green Machine, George Mason's band to my left, I finally felt as if the season had arrived. The matchup between the Patriots and visitors Liberty was one that looked to be getting out of hand at the half, but turned into a thriller at the end. GMU had opened up a 13-point lead at the end of the first, thanks to the effective execution of their uptempo offense. Point guard Cam Long had GMU's offense humming. He played 18 minutes in the first half, scoring 7 points and dishing out 3 assists in that time.
But he only played two more minutes the entire game. Postgame, GMU coach Jim Larranga said that Long had gone out with cramps, a persistent issue throughout his collegiate career. That meant 5-9 shooting guard Andre Cornelius had to shift over to the 1 spot, which hinderered his production. Cornelius scored 9 in the first, making 3 of 4 threes, but he only made one more field goal on the night. He did finish as GMU's leading scorer with 17, but he was unsettled at the point, turning the ball over 3 times, while he handed out 4 assists.
With such a young lineup (Mason has six freshmen and four sophomores on the roste)r, Larranaga expects there to be ups and downs throughout the season and even within games. However, one thing he said his team needs to particularly work on is their transition from offense to defense. Dale Layer's Flames were able to get back into the game in the second half by running right by the Patriots D, which had backed off a little. That led to a lot of easy baskets and the comeback.
Kyle Ohman led the way for the visitors with 23, making 4 of his 5 three point attempts on the night. Jesse Sanders had 15, while David Minaya ended up with 12 on a poor shooting night (4 for 14 from the field, though he was 2 for 3 from the perimeter).
George Mason fans have to be mostly happy with how the frontcourt started their season. Sophomores Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson each had 12, while freshman Luke Hancock managed 11 in his first college game. Larranga used him as a shooting guard, small forward, and power forward on the evening, and he hit a pressure shot in the final minute with 2 seconds left on the shot clock If he can play like that consistently, Hancock has a bright future in the CAA. However, It was a disappointing night for GMU's lone senior. Louis Birdsong. He only managed 5 points in his first start at the small forward position.
As for myself, I had a close encounter of the Lakeland kind with 6-7 redshirt freshman forward Kevin Foster, who went to high school about four miles from where I used to live in Central Florida. He crashed into my table on press row going after a loose ball.
Both squads will be in action again over the weekend. Liberty hosts NAIA Southern Virginia tomorrow night, while George Mason faces Dartmouth on Sunday afternoon in Fairfax.
On Saturday afternoon, there are two big mid-major contests that are only on local television, which is a shame. Creighton visits A-10 favorite Dayton at 1 Eastern, and Butler hosts Davidson an hour later in a rematch of a BracketBusters matchup from last season.