|Around the Rim: Marko Finds a Groove|
Paul Hewitt has tried both the usual and the comedic in an effort to help Marko Gujanicic out of a recent shooting slump.
During the semester break, Gujanicic has launched thousands of jumpers, trying to incorporate some tweaks to his shot. Hewitt noticed the ball was coming off Gujanicic's last three fingers instead of his index and middle fingers.
The Mason coach took to calling the versatile 6-8 freshman "Rodin," referring to French sculptor Auguste Rodin, famous for creating the statue of The Thinker. "Because he's always thinking of something," Hewitt said. "Instead of just playing, he's constantly thinking, 'If I do this, if I do that.' He's constantly tinkering with stuff instead of relying on just muscle memory and getting out and shooting the basketball."
While Gujanicic was mired in a 2-for-16 streak from three point range entering Tuesday's game against James Madison, Hewitt again joked: "Every time I see him, I keep asking him, 'Are you Marko? I want to make sure, because you ain't playing like the guy I recruited here.' He's really been trying hard."
The shots fell for Gujanicic Tuesday in the second half of a 68-57 win against JMU. The forward from Serbia finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, including two important threes midway through the half during a decisive 21-7 run that took the Patriots from down five to a 59-50 lead.
The first trey between the top of the key and the right wing put the Patriots ahead 49-48 with 8:42 left and prompted a primal scream and arm wave by Gujanicic, who finished 4-for-9 from the floor including 2-for-4 on threes.
"Probably like our team, (Marko's) maybe a little anxious cause we're not as fluid as we want to be," Hewitt said. "So for him to make the first three was a big weight off his shoulders. The second one he stepped up with a lot of confidence. You saw the rest of his game.
"He's a good rebounder, a very good passer, understands the game well, sees the floor well. I thought one of the big plays was when he found Sherrod (Wright) and hit him with a full court chest pass -- it was a heck of a pass -- to get the ball inbounds and get us two more free throws."
Wright, a candidate for CAA Player of the Year, finished with a game-high 23 points. The Patriots also got a boost from another player who, like Gujanicic, has had an up-and-down season. Junior Bryon Allen, who has gone from starting point guard to a reserve as point or shooting guard, had all seven of his points, all three of his assists and both his steals during the key 7:07 stretch that turned the game around.
"All of us coming off the bench, we're just trying to bring more energy," said Allen, replaced as a starter by Corey Edwards. "We can't rely on our starters always to always carry the whole team. I was trying to stay active, lead the team to a win.
"I've been trying to stay positive about the situation. Corey's starting now, which is fine with me. I personally don't care about starting. I just want to win. So whatever we do to make the team better, that's fine with me."
Allen assisted on both of Gujanicic's threes. He also converted one of his steals into a fast-break layup for a 55-50 lead following Gujanicic's second three.
"I knew he could shoot," JMU coach Matt Brady said when asked if Gujanicic's threes surprised him. "I know who he is. I knew who he was when he was in school last year. We talked about not giving him any clean looks. We gave him two there within a minute and a half or two minutes.
"We knew this game could change on a shot. He made two and we turned it over and they got a layup. Those three baskets really I think were the difference in the game."
As Hewitt has often said, the 20-year old Gujanicic, who played for Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., last year, is not a typical freshman. He has played against pros in Serbia and made the national team, giving him a lot of experience against older players. He may be the Patriots' most complete player as a shooter, rebounder, ballhandler, passer and help defender.
Rather than being jubilant about his performance Tuesday, Gujanicic was in his Rodin mode. He was analytical about his shooting, propensity for foul trouble and adjusting to the U.S. college game.
"As a shooter, you're supposed to shoot (well) every game," Gujanicic said. "I just didn't score (much) the game before. But tonight I was working on that. Tonight it worked so I'm glad. I'm glad because we won. This is a team win. It's all about the team."