George Mason coach Paul Hewitt was looking for a way to spark the offense in late January. After some experiments in practices and games, he moved Bryon Allen, a sometime starter at point guard for a season-and-a-half, to the starting shooting guard.
The result has been good for both the player and team, which has reached the best-of-three final in the College Basketball Invitational and will face Santa Clara next week.
“He’s our best player now, our most complete player I should say,” Hewitt said after Wednesday’s 62-52 win against Western Michigan in the CBI semifinals.
The junior from Largo, Md., and St. Thomas More HS, has thrived since coming off the bench and replacing forward Anali Okoloji in the starting lineup. He’s more comfortable at the 2 rather than at point guard.
“It relieved me a little bit,” he said of his reaction to Hewitt approaching him about the change. “I mean I was like ‘I’m cool. This is what I’ve been doing my whole life. I know I can play the 2.’
“I was kind of happy when he told me he wanted to try it out. It worked.”
In the 17 games since the change, Allen is averaging 9.8 points, shooting 49.2% from the field and 44.0% from three-point range, with 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. In the first 18 games, he averaged 6.1 points, on 45.7% shooting from the field and 21.4% from three-point range, with 3.0 assists and .7 steals per game. The team averaged 65.1 points in the first 18 games and 70.5 in the last 17.
The move to the wing has allowed Allen to make full use of his physical talents. He’s an explosive 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, who is quick and powerful. He can spin his way into the lane and hang in the air to draw fouls and convert baskets. His strength can also be used defensively to overpower opponents.
He has also become an outside threat thanks to working with the coaching staff on his shot. The work has produced a tamer, more efficient release on pull-up jumpers and shots beyond the arc. Allen was 8-for-48 (16.7%) last year on threes; he’s 14-for-40 (35.0) this season.
“I’ve worked on my jump shot a lot,” Allen said. “l know I can get to the rim a lot; I can finish with contact. But to play overseas or the next level wherever I end up at, I need to hit pull-ups and open threes. I worked on that in the offseason.”
The Patriots start games with Corey Edwards at the point and Allen on the wing. As games develop, Allen also takes stints at point guard. There has been an interesting development recently.
“Since we’ve started him at the wing, he looks even more comfortable playing the point,” Hewitt says. “He’s a true combo guard. Maybe playing him at the wing early has allowed him to settle into the ball game. By the time he shifts over to the point at stretches of the game, he’s in his rhythm and has a good flow going.”
Says Allen: “Basically when I’m a 2, I bring my energy on defense. When I’m the point, I basically run the show and make sure everybody gets some touches.”
Allen displayed his more complete game in the CBI semifinal win. He had averaged 14.3 points in the four previous games. After missing his first two shots, he became more of a playmaker, finishing with three points on 1-for-4 shooting, seven assists and two steals.
“I was just trying to get into the flow of the game,” Allen said. “My first two shots I missed. After that I let it come to me, started making my teammates happy and they converted. As long as my teammates are happy, I’m happy so I really don’t care about scoring.”
Allen began the last two seasons as the starting point guard. He gave way to Edwards as the starter both times. He didn’t sulk when moved to the bench. He competed hard in practices and kept watching film with coaches.
“I feel a lot more confident,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get better and I’ve been watching all the film I can.”
The Patriots are guaranteed at least two more games in the CBI finals. The extended season has been good for Allen and his teammates, who next year will be out of the CAA and playing in the Atlantic 10, which had five teams to the CAA’s one in the NCAA tourney.
“I think this is going to help us a lot, especially with us moving to the A-10 now,” Allen said. “That’s better competition than the CAA. It’s going to help us come together more as a team and be ready for the adversity in the A-10.”
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.