Patriots look to bounce back at VCU from loss in season finale

Mike Morrison was the Patriots' bright spot in their loss at Northeastern Wednesday night, and he will have to continue playing well as they play at VCU on Saturday in the final game of the regular season (John Powell).
Mike Morrison was the Patriots' bright spot in their loss at Northeastern Wednesday night, and he will have to continue playing well as they play at VCU on Saturday in the final game of the regular season (John Powell).

Head coach Paul Hewitt made it clear that his team had one goal in mind for the regular season: to win the conference.

That is no longer possible.

With the 85-82 overtime loss at Northeastern Wednesday evening, George Mason (23-7) dropped to 14-3 in the CAA, tied for second with VCU and one game back of Drexel. With the Mason loss, Drexel has clinched first place in the conference and the top seed in the upcoming CAA Tournament.

The Northeastern loss also dropped the Patriots to a mediocre 8-6 record in games played outside of the Patriot Center this season, compared to their strong 15-1 record in Fairfax. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they must finish the regular season on the road, playing in Richmond against archrival VCU.

Depending on the Patriots’ performance at VCU Saturday, they will either be the two or the three seed in the tournament.

The squad’s disappointing performance Wednesday ultimately came down to not taking care of the basketball, as they committed 21 turnovers in the game.

“It’s been an issue for us at times this year,” said Hewitt about the turnovers during the post-game press conference, “just when we think we’ve got it lifted, it kind of pops up on us again.”

In addition to the turnovers, the Patriots just seemed to lack the passion and focus of a typical George Mason team. Down the stretch with the game on the line, they simply did not make the winning plays and even got out-hustled by the Huskies.

“For some reason, our energy level didn’t seem where it should be, where it was earlier in the game,” Hewitt said.

The lack of energy was especially noticeable from senior leader Ryan Pearson, who did not play like the CAA Player of the Year. He was held to 11 points and five rebounds, and even committed five turnovers as he looked sloppy and lackadaisical throughout.

The defense was also a problem, as they gave up 75 points in regulation and 85 in total. The Huskies shot over 52 percent from the floor and over 46 percent from the three-point line, both of which are unusually high for the Patriots’ defense.

Despite the poor performance, Mike Morrison and Sherrod Wright stepped up and carried the team. Morrison finished the game with 19 points and six rebounds, going 7-of-9 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the free throw line. Wright had 13 points, including a big-time three to keep Mason in the game during regulation.

The VCU game Saturday isn’t necessary important in terms of the numbers, but it will be important in terms of psyche. Entering the conference tournament on a two-game losing skid could really dampen the attitudes of the players, but taking down their rivals in Richmond could do a lot for this team’s confidence.

Plus, going 2-0 against the Rams makes any season successful in Fairfax.

The two most recent losses, at Delaware and at Northeastern, eliminated any hope of the Patriots’ chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, meaning they must win the conference tournament for their dream to continue.

However, when you consider what this team lost and the adversity it endured in the off-season, a 23-7 season and a top-three finish in the CAA standings isn’t all that bad.

The Patriots lost two key contributors to graduation in Cam Long and Isaiah Tate, before also losing their coach unexpectedly as Jim Larranaga departed for the University of Miami (Fla.). Then, Luke Hancock announced his decision to transfer to Louisville.

But wait, there’s more.

Starting guard Andre Cornelius was thrown a 10-game suspension for credit card fraud, and has yet to regain his rhythm. And post-player Johnny Williams was unable to recover from a shoulder injury and decided to redshirt.

That is a lot for one team to overcome.

Yet, with three wins in the CAA Tournament next weekend, Hewitt and the Patriots can still go dancing.

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