The uniforms are the same and so are the players in them, but this George Mason basketball team looks nothing like the one that lost four of five games early last month.
The Patriots (11-8, 6-4 Colonial Athletic Association) won their fourth consecutive game yesterday with an 82-68 victory over Delaware (7-14, 4-6) in front of 2,621 at Patriot Center. All four wins have been by double-digit margins and yesterday's victory avenged George Mason's overtime loss at Delaware on Jan. 12.
That loss kick-started a three-game losing streak for George Mason, a slump that suddenly feels like long time ago. One key to the Patriots' resurgence, according to Coach Jim Larranaga, has been the rapid development of freshmen Will Thomas, Folarin Campbell and John Vaughan, who combined to score 39 points and grab 13 rebounds against Delaware.
In the previous meeting against Delaware, those three combined to score 15 points and grab nine rebounds.
"The difference between them three weeks ago and now is confidence," Larranaga said. "They all believe in themselves, so that's not what I'm talking about. It's confidence in knowing that you are doing the right thing to help your team. Knowing your role. Knowing when to do the right thing. They're really coming along."
For the second time in three games, Vaughan finished with a career-high 16 points. Vaughan scored 14 in the first half when he hit 3 of 4 three-point attempts. During one stretch, Vaughan scored 11 straight points.
The other key has been the non-stop energy provided by junior point guard Tony Skinn, who shook off a minor first-half knee injury to score a game-high 22 points, grab six rebounds and help put away the game by repeatedly getting to the free throw line down the stretch.
"There is no question that when Tony has it going, we are a different team," Larranaga said. "We are faster, we're much harder to guard. You've just got to love that about him."
It was Skinn who gave George Mason a 54-52 lead on a short jump shot with 11 minutes 39 seconds to play. Later, with just under two minutes to play, after Thomas missed a pair of free throws and Jai Lewis grabbed the rebound, Skinn sliced into the lane and hit a runner off glass to give the Patriots a 69-60 lead.
That shot appeared to steal Delaware's spirit but also illustrated why the Patriots are developing into such a dangerous team. In all four recent wins, the Patriots have been able to spread the floor with shooters while posting up quality big men like Lewis and Thomas. That, in turn, gives Skinn room to do his thing.
"If they want to double-team Jai, we have a lot of shooters," Skinn said. "Lamar [Butler], John, myself. We're all shooting with a lot of confidence right now so they have to pick what they want."
• FLORIDA A&M 77, HOWARD 74: Tony Tate scored 26 points, and Jonathan Kelly hit a go-ahead shot with 17 seconds left for the host Rattlers.
Kelly made a short jumper to give Florida A&M a 75-74 lead, and the Rattlers' James Pattman followed with two free throws with two seconds left. Howard's Darek Mitchell tried a three-point shot as time expired, but the ball rimmed out and bounced away.
Howard has lost seven consecutive games and eight of its last nine.
Darius Glover added 20 points for Florida A&M (6-11, 5-5 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) and Kelly finished with 10.
Cliffone Ault led Howard (5-13, 2-7) with 20 points. Will Gant scored 14 and Jason Trotter had 10.