With two weeks to go in the regular season, the George Mason
men’s basketball team is like a golfer struggling to find his game before a big
tournament. When the ball striking is good, the putting is bad. When the
putting is good, there are problems with ball striking.
head coach Paul Hewitt after Tuesday practice sandwiched between Saturday’s
loss to Delaware and Thursday’s game at Drexel. The loss to the Blue Hens, who last
won in the Patriot Center in 2001, was disappointing in light of the continued
improving play of posts Jon Arledge and Erik Copes, who combined for 28 points
and 21 rebounds in the 79-72 loss.
Wright, the team’s leading scorer and best shooter, had 12 points but was
4-for-16 from the field. Earlier in the season, the guards were carrying the
team as the posts had struggles.
“I know what our
guards are capable of doing,” Hewitt said. “I came into the season with high
expectations for our bigs. Now they’re starting to play that way for different
reasons. Erik is getting healthy (after off-season hip surgery). Jon’s
confidence is lifted. Now we need to get J2 (Johnny Williams, concussion) back
healthy and Marko (Gujanicic) straightened out, then I think we’ll be really
strong going into the tournament.”
“I still like our
team, still really like our guys. Now that our bigs are starting to play a
little better, we just need to get our guards to come back up. Sherrod’s kind
of fallen off a little, maybe just the weight of putting everything on him is catching
up to him.”
The trip to Drexel
is a chance to avenge one of the most deflating losses of the season. The
Patriots were up 20 points in the first half before losing 58-54 on Jan. 31.
They were outscored 14-2 on fast break points and 11-1 on second-chance points.
So it was no
surprise that getting back in transition and denying offensive rebounds were
the main emphasis in Tuesday’s practice.
“It’s not just transition
defense,” Hewitt said. “It’s transition defense after our transition
opportunities. We must have given up six to eight points that way. We had
breakouts and either a shot got blocked or we missed the shot; they would just
turn around, boom, and go the other way. We had four (players) below the foul
line and only one back. It’s a matter of re-establishing in our minds that a
shot is a shot, get back.”
For Copes, who
grew up in Philadelphia, the Drexel game is a homecoming. It’s also a return to
the court where last year as a freshman he was having an impressive game until
injuring himself with a nosedive fall after being upended in mid-air.
Copes goes into
the game feeling better about the way his hip is recovering and with confidence
in the team: “We believe in each other. I’ll never stop believing in my
teammates, no matter what would happen. We could have lost by 40 points to the
number-one team in the country; I would never stop believing in my team.
Dick Patrick started attending Final Fours as a
high school student in Kentucky in the 1960s when UCLA had a
center, Lew Alcindor, who later was better known as Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar. Patrick has covered Final Fours and college
basketball for five decades, including nearly 25 years at USA
Today. He has been around long enough and been in enough gyms
to have seen Paul Hewitt play in college.