George Mason 75,
Ten minutes before George Mason's game with American last night, the back hallways of MCI Center flashed green as the Patriots sprinted to their locker room, screaming and jumping and slapping walls.
It was an impressive display of enthusiasm, but it paled in comparison to the burst of energy the Patriots displayed once the game began. George Mason thoroughly dominated virtually every minute of a 75-35 win, turning the second game of yesterday's BB&T Classic into the most lopsided mismatch in this tournament's 11-year history.
The Patriots (4-2) made six of their first seven shots, while American missed 17 of its first 18. After six minutes, the score was 16-1. After more than 14 minutes, the score was 29-3. At halftime, it was 37-12. The Patriots' starters remained on the bench for most of the second half; by the end, even their top reserves were sitting with towels around their necks. The final margin was the largest in the tournament's history. American's 35 points were also the fewest scored in the event.
"We didn't have whatever it was," said American Coach Jeff Jones, whose team dropped to 0-5. "It was in every facet of the game, and it's embarrassing."
But the Eagles' problems were caused in no small measure by a George Mason team that seems to have discovered itself over the past two weeks. After pushing Wake Forest to overtime in the season-opening 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, George Mason came to Patriot Center for its home opener and was humbled by Creighton in a 20-point loss.
That game sent both coaches and players to the film room, where several shortcomings emerged. The Patriots were settling for quick perimeter shots instead of working the ball to forwards Will Thomas and Jai Lewis in the lane. They were failing to get back on transition defense. And after playing solid defense for 20 or 25 seconds, they were faltering as the shot clock ran down.
"We watched film, more film, and then some more film," guard Lamar Butler said. "We learned a lot about ourselves as a team, and I think it's showing right now."
Since that game, the Patriots won at Manhattan and beat Georgia State by 31 in their Colonial Athletic Association opener. Yesterday, they recorded their most lopsided win since January 2001.
George Mason passed the ball quickly and efficiently, and there were open perimeter looks all night. Butler was 5 for 10 from three-point range and had a game-high 23 points; back-court mate Tony Skinn hit 5 of 9 three-point attempts and had 15 points.
"We've just shared the ball much better, we're much more patient, not nearly in as much of a hurry, and we've scored a lot more points," said George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga of the past three games. "It's not taking shots that scores points, it's making shots."
The teams now face significantly different tasks. George Mason travels to Norfolk tomorrow for one of its biggest games, against Old Dominion, the CAA's preseason favorite.
American, which used five freshmen last night, still has a month before its Patriot League season starts. The Eagles have four consecutive games against area foes in Mount St. Mary's, Towson, Howard and No. 21 Maryland.
"We're going to have to collect ourselves first and decide if we want to be a team and if we're going to stick together," Jones said. "We need to come up with something we can sink our teeth into, something where we can say, 'Okay, we do that well.' Right now we don't have that."