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Local college basketball previews

Saturday, January 30, 2010; D05

When: Noon.

Where: Patriot Center.

TV: Comcast SportsNet.

Radio: WTNT (570 AM).

Records: Patriots 14-7, 9-1 CAA; Dukes 10-11, 3-7.

What rivalry?: The Patriots have won six straight and share first place with Old Dominion, which has an eight-game unbeaten streak heading into Saturday's visit to Northeastern (8-2). The rivalry with James Madison has been one-sided of late, with George Mason winning 12 of 13, including six in a row in Fairfax. Three-point shooting has been critical to the Patriots' surge: They have made 35 of 76 attempts (46.1 percent) the past four games. Junior guard Cam Long is 13 of 20 during that stretch and sophomore guard Andre Cornelius is second in the CAA at 45.3 percent (34 of 75).

Pearson back: After sitting out Wednesday's game against Delaware with a hamstring ailment, sophomore forward Ryan Pearson, the Patriots' second-leading scorer (12.4 points) and top rebounder (6.7), is likely to return to the starting lineup, according to university officials. Though the team missed Pearson's presence, his absence allowed Louis Birdsong, GMU's only senior, to reestablish himself in the rotation after playing sparingly the past two months. Birdsong had season highs in points (11), rebounds (seven) and blocked shots (three), and tied a career high with three assists against Delaware. He moved into sixth place in program history for blocks (92).

Dukes bounce back: Despite being beset by injuries all season, James Madison appears to be gaining traction with consecutive wins, including a 65-63 decision over visiting William & Mary on Wednesday as Denzel Bowles and Julius Wells combined for 36 points and 15 rebounds. Since becoming eligible in December, the 6-foot-10 Bowles is averaging 21.1 points and 9.6 rebounds and shooting 58.1 percent. Wells is averaging 16.8 points and has made a league-high 62 three-pointers.

-- Steven Goff

GW at

Rhode Island

When: 1 p.m.

Where: Ryan Center, Kingston, R.I.

Radio: WFED (1500 AM, 820 AM).

Records: Colonials 12-7, 2-4 Atlantic 10; Rams 16-3, 4-2.

Playing the percentages: GW's field goal percentage had fallen for four consecutive games -- Xavier (.446), La Salle (.439), Dayton (.400) and Richmond (.381) -- before finally turning around against St. Louis (.393). The Colonials should be able to continue their upward trend against Rhode Island, which has the worst field goal percentage defense in the Atlantic 10 (.452).

Stop thief: GW and Rhode Island rank first and second in the league in steals. The Colonials average 8.4 steals per game; the Rams average 8.3. Rhode Island is better at holding onto the ball, however, than GW. The Rams have a plus-3.3 turnover margin, while the Colonials have a plus-0.9.

Smith emerges: Aside from a couple of solid games at East Carolina and Holy Cross, freshman forward Dwayne Smith hadn't been much of a factor for GW until Wednesday's game against St. Louis. Smith, who played a career-high 25 minutes, scored four points in overtime to help GW snap its four-game losing streak. He tied career highs in points (13) and rebounds (seven). He also didn't turn the ball over once, the third time this season he has scored in double figures and not had a turnover.

About the Rams: Rhode Island has the second-highest scoring offense in the Atlantic 10, averaging 77.8 points per game. Of the Rams' three losses, two were by four points or fewer -- a 68-64 overtime loss to Temple and an 82-80 loss at VCU.

-- Kathy Orton

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