Five observations from George Mason’s 70-56 victory Monday over William & Mary.
Mason needs Cornelius on the floor. No George Mason player brings it as consistently as Andre Cornelius. He was clearly the difference for the Patriots on Monday. They trailed 20-10 early and looked out of it before Cornelius scored 14 of his 20 points in the final nine minutes of the half to give Mason a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Hewitt realized the unique talents of Cornelius the first day he saw him practice. “I was impressed. He just got all over Corey [Edwards] and Bryon [Allen]. He was making shots and making plays,” Hewitt said. But coming off a 10-game suspension, Cornelius struggled at first to find his groove in Hewitt’s motion offense, until the last two games, when he has hit seven of 12 shots from the arc, been disruptive on defense, and collected seven rebounds in 43 minutes.
Getting the point. Sophomore point guard Bryon Allen (10 points, six assists, one turnover) hit three of four shots from the floor, guiding the Patriots efficiently. “That’s as good as he’s played,” Mason coach Paul Hewitt said. “He’s learning how to play at different speeds, learning how to push the ball down the court.” The return of Cornelius has fueled speculation that the senior would take over the point. But Cornelius is better off the ball and, for now, Allen appears the team’s best playmaker until quick freshman Corey Edwards (32 assists, 26 turnovers) becomes more reliable. “It doesn’t matter who starts, just who finishes the game,” Hewitt said. “If [Cornelius] keeps playing like this, he’ll be getting starter’s minutes.”
Uneven effort. Getting a constant level of intensity and focus has been a struggle for Hewitt. A few minutes after Mason reeled off a 16-0 run to take control against William & Mary in the second half, Hewitt was noticeably perturbed when the Patriots sauntered off the court during a timeout. “Run!” he pleaded. After leading by 18 with seven minutes left, Mason allowed William & Mary to make a run as the Tribe cut it to 10 and had the ball. Allen made the clinching play, splitting defenders at the top of the key, and throwing a bounce pass to Ryan Pearson (11 points, four rebounds) for a layup and a 12-point lead with 2:06 left. There’s little question that GMU misses inspirational backcourt players and stat-sheet stuffers Cam Long, Luke Hancock and Isaiah Tate. While this year’s cast can approach the talents of last year’s group, there’s been a leadership void, understandable considering the youth of the backcourt – Vertrail Vaughns, Sherrod Wright, and Allen – all sophomores in their first year as starters.
Next Up. Old Dominion (7-7, 2-0) should provide a tough test for Mason (10-4, 2-0) Wednesday night in Norfolk. No building has vexed the Patriots like the Constant Convocation Center, where they have lost seven straight years. During that period, Mason has beaten every other CAA team on the road at least twice. The Monarchs have been in flux, adding rotation players Richard Ross and Donte Hill three weeks ago, but are gathering momentum of late. ODU led undefeated Missouri with 62 seconds left before losing on Friday. The Monarchs rebounded with a 67-61 overtime victory at James Madison on Monday afternoon behind Trian Iiadis (22 points) who hit five 3-pointers, 6-9 Chris Cooper (12 points, 16 rebounds), and last year’s CAA defensive player of the year Kent Bazemore (14 points, eight assists, seven rebounds).
William & Mary’s future. Tribe freshman Marcus Thornton, a 6-4 guard from Bishop McNamara, scored a career-high 23 points, hitting four of six shots from beyond the arc. Despite starting only two games, Thornton (11.3 ppg) has taken over the team’s scoring lead from veteran Quinn McDowell (11.2 ppg). Thornton, last year’s WCAC Player of the Year, showed confidence, quickness, and range as he helped stake the Tribe to an early 10-point lead. “Marcus is good. I think he’s going to be really good,” W&M coach Tony Shaver said. “Early in the year, Marcus didn’t defend. Early in the year, Marcus had a hard time understanding shot selection in our offense. He’s made incredible progress as a player and as a teammate.” Thornton has also made progress from his last trip to the D.C. area. In a 67-58 loss at Howard in November, Thornton had three turnovers and missed six of eight shots.