Mike Morrison loses his cool, George Mason loses to Old Dominion

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010

NORFOLK -- In a five-day swing this week, George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga witnessed the best and worst emotions from his novice basketball team, moments to savor and instances that will require nurture and guidance.

On Saturday afternoon, the Patriots revealed their immaturity, resulting in an enormous early deficit, the ejection of demonstrative sophomore Mike Morrison and ultimately a 76-60 loss to Old Dominion in front of 8,424 at sold-out Constant Convocation Center.

George Mason trailed 17-1 and needed almost nine minutes to make a field goal, and with the game unraveling early in the second half, Morrison received two technical fouls for yelling at a referee. Per Colonial Athletic Association guidelines, the forward will miss Tuesday's game against William & Mary.

"We are very young and it shows a lot," said Larranaga, whose team has only one senior and two juniors. "Sometimes it shows in a good way, the ability the other night to come back [from a 15-point deficit to defeat Virginia Commonwealth] because of the emotion in the arena. Tonight it turned against us."

Morrison is the most expressive player on the Patriots (16-10, 11-4 CAA), emphatically dunking, blocking shots and offering vocal encouragement. Although his passion has served the team well, he was involved in a minor scuffle with a Delaware player and instructed to tone down his enthusiasm after clapping in a James Madison player's face.

Against the Monarchs (20-7, 12-3), he became upset after having a shot blocked by Frank Hassell. "I lost my cool," he said. "It shouldn't have happened."

Morrison was left out of the starting lineup for the first time this season as part of Larranaga's effort to draw leadership from his sophomore class. On Tuesday against VCU, usual starters Ryan Pearson and Andre Cornelius began the game on the bench.

"We want them to take on more responsibility and be more accountable," Larranaga said. "As the season has come near the end, you need great leadership from more than just one or two players. Cam Long, as a leader, has been fantastic, but the other starters have got to chip in. When they don't, I am going to try to send them a message."

No messages got through to the Patriots on Saturday as the Monarchs dropped the Patriots into third place in the CAA. Ben Finney had 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists for ODU, which held the Patriots to 6-of-20 shooting in the first half, forced 18 turnovers and had 17 offensive rebounds.

ODU's defense was stifling at the start, but the Patriots also missed clear shots. Freshman Johnny Williams made his first start, replacing Morrison, who had made 15 of 18 shots the previous two games. Morrison's absence and Williams's inexperience were glaring as the Monarchs took advantage inside and watched the rookie miss 3 of 4 free throws and a layup.

After Finney swished a three-pointer, Marsharee Neely made a three-pointer and then stole the ball for a dunk and a 16-1 lead. The Monarchs added a free throw before Cornelius ended George Mason's rut with a three-pointer.

The Patriots sliced the deficit to nine, but Finney and Neely made three-pointers on the Monarchs' final possessions to forge a 34-21 lead. "That deflated us," Larranaga said. "We then came out and played very poorly in the second half."

The momentum carried over with two quick ODU baskets, prompting a timeout by Larranaga. With the margin at 22, Morrison lost his composure and Lee made four subsequent free throws for a 51-25 lead.

"Mike is a very emotional guy, and that's one of the things we like about him," Long said. "His energy gives us energy. Sometimes he can be a little overboard. He wants to win so badly, and if you're like that and you don't get your way, you get a little upset. It's something he has to work on."

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