In the aftermath of George Mason’s victory over William & Mary on Monday, the locker room was buzzing about Thursday’s game at Old Dominion. The Patriots haven’t won in Norfolk in almost eight years — not during their Final Four run in 2006, not during last winter’s sensational regular season.
In recent years, they’ve ended dreary streaks at Northeastern and UNC Wilmington. A victory at Constant Center, however, has remained elusive.
“It’s something to check off the list,” senior forward Mike Morrison said.
Four of the losses during the seven-game stretch were by a combined nine points. Last year, with the Patriots trailing by two, Andre Cornelius missed a three-pointer with four seconds left and the Monarchs survived, 69-65.
Speaking on the losing streak at ODU, Paul Hewitt, the Patriots’ first-year coach, said his players “realize it because right after the [William & Mary] game, the first thing they said was that we hadn’t won down there in a while. So it’s not like it’s a secret, but at the same time, it’s not a major aspect of our preparation for the game. It’s about preparing for ODU.”
The outcomes between the teams at Patriot Center have been almost reversed: George Mason has won six of the past seven by an average of 18 points. They in Fairfax on Feb. 4.
Aside from their 2-0 records in the Colonial Athletic Association, the teams have little in common. The Patriots (10-4 overall) have won eight of 10, while the Monarchs (7-7) ended a 1-4 rut with an overtime victory at James Madison on Monday.
The Patriots returned a strong nucleus from a 27-win squad last year, while the Monarchs are finding their way after bringing back just one high-profile player (senior guard Kent Bazemore) from a 27-win team of its own.
“Our resiliency has grown,” said Monarchs Coach Blaine Taylor, whose team has played four overtime games. “We’re gradually developing a little bit of an identity. We were really a man without a country: We wanted to be what we were before but we had so many new pieces and missing pieces.
“So we’re just starting to form a psychology we’d like to have in competition. They’ve hung together through the ups and downs.”
The teams also differ in their early-season schedules. Six of George Mason’s victories have come against teams with a combined 15-73 record entering Wednesday’s games. Its most notable win was at College of Charleston last week. The Monarchs have been tested – and defeated – by Northern Iowa, Kentucky, Richmond and Missouri.
The difficult nonconference assignments, Taylor said, should leave the Monarchs battle-tested for the rigors of the CAA.
“We are a little bit more — I don’t want to say fearless — but more aggressive in that I really don’t worry about a loss here or there as long as it maybe gives us a chance at something like playing Missouri or Kentucky,” said Taylor, whose team lost to the seventh-ranked Tigers by seven and the No. 2 Wildcats by 10.
“There are teams in our league similar to Richmond or Missouri. There is no one in our league similar to Kentucky. You have to go watch a re-run of ‘Jurassic Park.’ ”
Despite their returning firepower, the Patriots have had to adjust as well, with a new coach and Cornelius’s return from a 10-game suspension. In his fourth appearance Monday, the senior guard made five three-pointers and had 20 points to spark a comeback victory against the Tribe.
“He’s starting to get back into the rhythm of things,” Hewitt said. “If not for Andre, we would’ve had a hard time winning that basketball game.”
Hewitt suggested that, for the time being, Cornelius, a starter each of the previous two seasons, would continue to come off the bench and support a back court that is improving after a turnover-marred start to the season. The Patriots committed 21 turnovers combined in the past two games after averaging 18 in the previous four outings.
“Now that they’ve gotten settled a little more with the coaching change,” Taylor said, “they should be one of the teams to beat in the league race.”
Comcast SportsNet will show Thursday’s game, starting at 7 p.m.