George Mason Readies Itself For Upgrade in Competition This SeasonPosted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2013
Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the George Mason vs. Northern Iowa game on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, Northern Iowa came to Fairfax, Virginia, to play George Mason for the second consecutive year. Both teams are etched into the minds of college basketball fans because of some recent unforgettable moments in March. The Panthers have remained relatively intact since their stellar moment in 2010. Same coach, same league, and moderate success in the Missouri Valley. The Patriots, however, have experienced a sort of program face-lift since their Final Four run. They lost long-time head coach, Jim Larranaga, to the ACC’s Miami (FL) in 2011, and hired Paul Hewitt, the former George Tech coach whose career there produced mixed results, as his replacement. They also upgraded their conference affiliation by moving from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10, starting this season. While Hewitt was in Atlanta, he relied on talented underclassmen, like Thaddeus Young and Iman Shumpert, to drive his program. But this season at George Mason, he’ll need to rely on his slate of returning upperclassmen to transition into the A-10 and make a run at the school’s first NCAA Tournament under his watch.
Hewitt has led the Patriots to 20 wins in each of his first two seasons, and they return nearly everyone of significance including redshirt senior Sherrod Wright, who averaged 16.6 PPG last year. Despite that success, Hewitt has not yet managed to earn enough quality or timely wins to make the NCAA Tournament. Now that George Mason will be in a higher-profile league, the tougher competition will give his team more opportunities for signature wins on its resume. So far this season, the Patriots have eked out a win against American and beaten Lamar handily. The visit by the Panthers represented their first test against competition comparable to what they’ll be facing in the A-10 most nights out.
Saturday’s game was representative of how the Patriots have fared thus far: strong defense (holding opponents to an eFG of 45.6%) and hurting themselves with turnovers (16 per game). Turnovers both nagged and aided Hewitt’s team; while committing 16 itself, Mason also caused the Panthers to commit 14 miscues. But the 76-70 win was earned on the defensive end, holding the Panthers to a game eFG% of 46 percent . Wright led the way by scoring a game-high 23 points, but several other players also rose to the occasion. Sophomore Marko Gujanicic had his second double-double of the season, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. More importantly, when George Mason needed a big shot, sophomore Patrick Holloway hit a three-pointer which put them up 67-63 with 2:09 left in the game. From that point, Mason was in full control.
Beating a team expected to finish near the top of the MVC bodes well for George Mason’s prospects of being competitive in the A-10 this season. As long as Hewitt’s group can cut down on their turnovers, this veteran team has the moxie to stack up wins and make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid.