By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009
Cam Long walked gingerly to George Mason's bench early in the second half, cramps flaring in his legs at almost the same juncture of Sunday's game against Dartmouth as they did in the season opener. He tossed aside his warmup, frustrated by the possibility of not returning for the second time in three days.
But instead of receiving treatment, Long hopped on an exercise bicycle behind the bench, and 3 1/2 minutes later, he returned to the court to help the Patriots pull away from the Big Green, 60-44, and set a program record for consecutive home victories (18).
Long's guidance overshadowed his modest statistics as George Mason (2-0) outscored the Big Green 26-7 in an 11-minute span.
"Anything was worth a try," the junior point guard said of his bike option. "It kept me warm. At halftime, I normally just sit down and relax, and when I come back out, my body is really stiff. My body really shut down."
When the problem surfaced two minutes into the second half Friday against Liberty, Long didn't return. In his absence, the disorganized Patriots allowed a 19-point lead to almost completely evaporate before securing a four-point victory.
"When his body cools down, it is hard for him to heat back up," Patriots Coach Jim Larranaga said. "We had the bike in the locker room at halftime. He looked like Lance Armstrong. Everyone else is listening and he's going a mile a minute."
Long has also changed his pregame diet to improve stamina and protein levels.
"He was having a salad," Larranaga said. "Not a lot of energy coming from lettuce. . . . Salad is really good for my wife. For our players, they should probably get more calories."
While Long (nine points) helped steer the Patriots, sophomore Ryan Pearson contributed 19 points, including the first two three-pointers of his career, and 10 rebounds. Freshman Luke Hancock scored 12 in reserve and sophomore Mike Morrison added 11 points and 10 rebounds for George Mason, which will face fifth-ranked Villanova on Thursday and either No. 21 Dayton or No. 22 Georgia Tech in the second round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
David Rufful had 13 points for Dartmouth (0-2), which was picked to finish last in the Ivy League. The Big Green was within 28-24 at halftime and 32-30 with 13 minutes 40 seconds remaining, when the Patriots' pressure resulted in turnovers and easy baskets.
A 9-0 run began with Morrison's free throw and closed with his spin move in the lane. In between, pressure at midcourt triggered Hancock's reverse layup and free throw conversion and Pearson made his second three-pointer after missing two Friday and attempting only one last season.
"The coaching staff encouraged me a lot to shoot to give [the other big men] more space down low so they can operate and make us that much tougher to guard," said the 6-foot-6 Pearson, whose production typically comes from clever inside moves. "I'm not too comfortable. Sometimes I was open and hesitated. I don't really have that shoot-first mentality out there -- not yet."
The Big Green used three-point shooting to keep the score close for another few minutes, but then went 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal while the Patriots reeled off 13 straight points. George Mason's pressure had much to do with it, leading to, among other things, Long's pass to Morrison for a dunk in transition and Hancock's shifty drive after Kevin Foster's blocked shot.
"If you want to be a running team, it starts with the defense and the pressure, and then it continues to your offense -- your defense really is a major part of your offense," Larranaga said. "You create."