FAIRFAX, V.a. – On the day when he was named CAA Player of the Week, George Mason leading scorer Ryan Pearson was turned into a first-half spectator after picking up two quick fouls in the Patriots conference home opener.
So with one starter out, it was former starter Andre Cornelius who answered the call with a team-high 20 points behind 5-of-8 three point shooting for Coach Paul Hewitt as George Mason turned a double digit deficit into a comfortable 70-56 win over William & Mary in front of 5,017 on a rare Monday afternoon game at the Patriot Center.
As the grind of CAA play begins, Cornelius, a two-year starter who was playing in just his fourth game after serving a 10-game suspension to start the season, seems to be fitting into to Hewitt’s new system at just the right time.
“I’m getting back into my comfort zone,” Cornelius explained after his best performance of the year. “It felt good. When I was shooting the ball it seemed like the rim was big. It seemed like I was going to hit everything.”
After back-to-back Marcus Thornton (game-high 23 points) three-pointers gave William & Mary (2-11, 0-2) their biggest lead of the game at 20-10, George Mason (10-4, 2-0) went on a 22-11 run to close the half with a one-point advantage. Cornelius provided 14 points and more importantly, some much needed energy during that final nine minute stretch.
Even with the lead, Hewitt was upset with his team’s energy as the Patriots were out rebounded 18-10 in the opening half, including four to one on the offensive glass.
“Rebounding is an emotional, energy stat,” Coach Hewitt said. “And obviously when it’s 4 to 1, they are playing with more emotion, more energy. We found that in the first six minutes of the second half and built ourselves a nice cushion.”
The Patriots came out in the second-half and promptly went on a 16-0 led by Pearson, Mike Morrison, and a team effort on defense that limited the Tribe without a made field goal for the first 7:04.
Pearson finished with 11 points while Morrison went for 14 points behind an impressive 6-of-8 shooting from the free throw line. The senior forward came into the game shooting just 55 percent from the line but is currently in the midst of a stretch that has him successfully hitting 18 of his last 22 from the charity stripe.
With a trip to Old Dominion on Thursday, one of the topics that Coach Hewitt doesn’t seem too worried about is the status of his starting line-up and, more specifically, the possible insertion of Cornelius.
“It doesn’t matter who starts,” Hewitt said. “It’s just who’s finishing the game and he’ll be in there. If he keeps playing, basically he’ll be getting full starter’s minutes. He’ll be there when the game is going to be decided. We’ll see how it goes. It’s nice to get Andre to come off the bench and knock in a couple of threes for you and provide so much energy.”
Up Next: George Mason travels to Norfolk on Thursday to take on Old Dominion (6-7, 0-1) at 7pm. The Monarchs defeated James Madison in overtime over the weekend after giving undefeated No. 8 Missouri all they could handle on December 30th before eventually falling 75-8 at home.