BLACKSBURG, Va. — After watching his first two games at George Mason go down to the wire, Coach Paul Hewitt finally got the boring victory he’d been looking for. With less than 100 spectators in the crowd to witness it, the Patriots put together their most complete performance of the season and easily disposed of Monmouth, 71-39, in an NIT Season Tip-Off consolation game Tuesday night.
But the lopsided victory may have come with a cost. Midway through the second half, guard Sherrod Wright (nine points) landed hard on his right hand and didn’t return to the game. Hewitt said afterwards Wright would have X-rays taken on his right wrist and middle finger when the team returns to Fairfax on Wednesday.
That, though, was the only bad news on a night when the Patriots weren’t challenged after halftime. Unlike Monday evening, when George Mason struggled to get the ball inside to its plethora of big men in a 76-73 overtime loss to Florida International, the Patriots did much of their damage on the interior. The Patriots outrebounded Monmouth, 43-33, and scored 32 of their points in the paint.
Senior Ryan Pearson led the team with 16 points and 12 rebounds, his third double-double in as many games. Guard Vertrail Vaughns added 12 points as ten different Patriots players scored at least one point.
The rout was a welcome change for Hewitt, who had seen his first two games as George Mason’s coach go to overtime. Even with the win, turnovers remain a concern for the Patriots, who are still adjusting to Hewitt’s fast-paced philosophy that has proven both exciting — and erratic — in the early portions of this season.
Playing without guard Andre Cornelius for a third-straight game — he’s currently serving a 10-game suspension after pleading guilty to credit card fraud earlier this month — George Mason once again relied on freshman guard Corey Edwards and sophomore guard Bryon Allen to handle the bulk of the ball handling. When the final buzzer sounded, the Patriots had committed 20 turnovers while dishing out just 14 assists.
“We’ve been preaching since practice started: ‘Make good decisions at a fast pace,’ ” Hewitt said. “We’ll figure it out because in the second half I thought we did a much better job of running when it was there and then keeping them on the run.”
This, though, was the sort of early-season game where George Mason’s young guards could learn from their mistakes and not worry about it costing the team a victory. Monmouth, which won just nine games a year ago, shot just 24.1 percent from the field.
From the get go it was clear George Mason had gotten a wake-up call after starting sluggishly against Florida International in front of a sparse crowd at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum. There were even fewer fans in attendance Tuesday night, but that didn’t stop the Patriots from storming out of the gate with an 11-2 run. Before the first media timeout, Pearson had already scored seven points and the tone for the rest of the night was set.
But perhaps more importantly as Hewitt continues to put his mark on this program, the Patriots seemed to have learned a valuable lesson on a road trip to southwest Virginia that included their first setback of the season.
“We can play fast, but we’ve got to play under control,” Pearson said. “On certain possessions when it’s not there, we’ve just got to stop trying to hit home runs.”