The Role of the Bench

Throughout the season, the Patriots have been forced to rely on bench production, especially in their record-breaking streak of 16 consecutive wins. Cam Long and Ryan Pearson have historically been point producers, the studs of the team, the bench has needed to step up to win close games. 



For example, when junior guard Ryan Pearson got into foul trouble, accruing four fouls with nearly a quarter left in the game, sophomore guard Johnny Williams stepped up to have one of the biggest performances of his career. It was not the fact that he had eight points on the night, his season high, but that his shots in the second half cut the Villanova lead from five points to one. 


“People don’t get to see a lot of Johnny,” said senior guard Isaiah Tate. “He’s more of a guard when he gets the ball on the wing than a post up player. When he gets the ball in the post, he definitely has moves, but if he gets the ball on the wing, he can make a move and break down a bigger guy. And he’s really crafty around the basket.”


The Patriots’ bread and butter has been in hiding those talents only to show off a different one every night. Against Villanova, the Mason bench scored 18 points to Villanova’s three points.


“If you think about it from last year, everybody contributes more,” Tate said. “It’s not just one guy every night. Any night, any one of our like 10 guys in the rotation can have a great game. It’s never any pressure on one person.”


Each player on the team has a unique set of skills. Some have skills that break the mold. Freshman forward Jon Arledge is the example. He looks the part to fill a job when Mike Morrison leaves while Williams looks to fill the void Ryan Pearson will leave, but their styles may be different.


“Similar to Mike? No,” Arledge said. “[I am] more shooting and athletic. Mike is a leaper and a jumper. I think I’m more versatile than Mike.”


His teammates backed that up. Freshman forward Paris Bennett said that he was “more fundamentally sound.” Freshman guard Bryon Allen said he was “more like a Kevin Garnett type of player.”


Sophomore guard Sherrod Wright, who has been on the bench with a shoulder injury, sees how the team works together. 


“We have a great team, some good freshman,” Wright said. “Bryon and Vertrail, Jon, Paris, all of them go hard in practice. We’re really pushing ourselves.”


Bennett realizes how important the bench is. Throughout the season, if a player does well in his first time out, he stays there. 


“Whatever we get, we make the best of our opportunities,” Bennett said. “Whether you get 30 seconds or seven minutes, you’ve just got to make the best of the opportunities. When you’re out there, you determine how many minutes you get next time once you get subbed out.”


This years’ team may be the closest in the last few years, not just with the starters. The reserves and starters are together much more than in the past. Senior guard Cam Long said earlier this season that the players hated each other last year. The team’s trip to Italy may have changed that.


There is no social between the gold team and the green team, the names the coaching staff has given to the more experienced crew and the reserves respectively. It does not matter which unit is on the court, or if there is a mix because of that positive energy.


“It doesn’t really matter, because we’re always playing with each other,” Allen said. “It doesn’t really matter who’s on the floor.”


So what drives this team to knock off major teams like Villanova?


“Confidence, preparation, most of all is how we are together off the court,” Bennett said. “We’re just so close off the court. We do everything together, we preach about being one. This year, [there are] no names on the back of the jerseys. We go by “e plurbus unum.” Out of many, one. We all believe in each other.” 


And they have good leadership. Cam Long and Isaiah Tate are the only players who have been to the Big Dance before, and their leadership has brought up the skill of the team in pressure situations. 


“I think our team is very poised as a whole, very mature,” Tate said. “I think we’ve grown so much that we’re ready to take anything.  “


They really believe there is no team that can beat them. No matter the conference, opinions of talking heads on television, or even college basketball fans.


“Those guys [from the major conferences] get a lot of hype,” Bennett said, “but at the end of the day, we can play with anybody in the country.”


The Patriots take on the Ohio State Buckeyes tonight at 5:00 p.m. on CBS. Tip-off is set for 5:15 p.m. in Cleveland, Ohio. If they win, they will move on to Newark, N.J. for the regional semifinals. 

No votes yet
Student Media Group: