George Mason basketball opens with win over Harvard

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 12:35 AM

G. MasonHarvard

Jim Larranaga was not expecting perfection in George Mason's season opener Saturday, not when he is still integrating several young players and bracing himself for the predictable lapses that accompany early games.

There was a slow start and wobbly free throw shooting, a rebounding deficit and abundance of turnovers. But to a coach with long-term vision, these are elements that should improve over the course of a four-month schedule.

What Larranaga and his players drew from the 66-53 victory over Harvard was unity and defensive intensity, components that turned a close game early in the second half into a rout during a blinding five-minute spell in front of 6,536 at Patriot Center.

"If this group can stay healthy and play well together, I think we've got a good chance to get better and better as this season progresses," Larranaga said of a team picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association and make a legitimate bid for a third NCAA tournament berth in six years.

The Patriots exhibited depth and balance: Larranaga used 11 players in the first half and the overall production was sprinkled among the starters. Sophomore Luke Hancock had 14 points, junior Ryan Pearson 13 and junior Andre Cornelius 11 as George Mason won its opener for an eighth straight season.

Senior Cam Long added 8 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists for the Patriots, who forced 24 turnovers and scored 14 consecutive points to build a 20-point lead.

Those contributions offset 9-of-20 free throw shooting, a 41-34 rebounding shortfall and Crimson junior Keith Wright's 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and 16 rebounds.

Despite the imperfections, George Mason sustained its energy level throughout the afternoon and offered a collection of exciting sequences: Isaiah Tate blocking consecutive three-point attempts, Cornelius stealing the ball for breakaway layups on two straight possessions, 6-foot-9 forward Mike Morrison dropping a behind-the-back bounce pass to Vertrail Vaughns for a layup, and Morrison's two-handed blocked shot.

"Their speed, quickness and athleticism was the difference, and certainly with the turnovers we had out in the middle of the floor, it energized their team and energized their crowd," said Crimson Coach Tommy Amaker, who played at Fairfax's W.T. Woodson High School and attended George Mason basketball camps before starring at Duke.

The Patriots led by nine in the first half before settling for a 32-28 advantage at the break. After a three-pointer by Landon graduate Christian Webster (11 points) cut their lead to 39-33, the Patriots blitzed the Crimson with their 14-point surge.

Long made two three-pointers, Pearson scored inside and the 5-10 Cornelius poked away the ball for breakaway layups. After Morrison's basket, Brandyn Curry's three-pointer ended a seven-minute scoreless stretch in which the Crimson missed 10 shots and had five turnovers.

"We turned it up," Hancock said. "We can put a lot of different lineups out there and guys just mesh well together."

Patriots notes: Cornelius was helped off the court late in the game with what Larranaga said were leg cramps. . . .

George Mason will play Charlotte on Thursday at the eight-team Charleston (S.C.) Classic, which also includes Georgetown and North Carolina State.

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