Dre Smith had not scored a point in the first four games of his Division I career. The junior college transfer came to George Mason with plenty of fanfare and was brought in to help fill the backcourt void with the departure of Final Four guards Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn.
The 6-foot guard from Houston by way of Cochise Community College in Arizona was brought in for one thing above all others: score. However, it was his defense that ultimately got him going in George Mason's 65-39 drubbing of Florida International last night at Patriot Center. He converted his own steal for a layup to ignite his scoring frenzy and finished with 20 points off the bench.
"I commented to him after the game, 'Welcome to George Mason' because I hadn't seen that," said Patriots coach Jim Larranaga, whose team bounced back from a two-point loss at Creighton on Saturday. "I told him in the airport in Omaha that 'we didn't recruit you because we were hoping you were good. You were a first-team junior college All-American. The first time I saw you play you had like 30-something points. ... I know you can shoot. You have to get yourself into the game and playing with some confidence.' "
Smith displayed plenty of that on a night when some of the starters looked sluggish two days and a plane trip after the Creighton loss. Smith's steal and score was followed immediately by a 3-pointer as the Patriots (3-1) pulled away in the first half. He made eight of 14 shots and three of eight 3-pointers to announce his arrival in Fairfax before 4,310 in Mason's second home game of the season.
His previous totals were three missed shots in 13 total minutes, and he did not even play in a loss to Wichita State. Last night he scored his first points in the midst of a 24-5 first-half run that ended with 13 straight points as the Patriots took a decisive a 30-12 lead.
"You tell me if somebody who hasn't scored all season scores 20, what do you think?" said Florida International coach Sergio Rouco, who called some of his players "cowards" after the Golden Panthers dropped to a 3-4 record. "The kid had a party. The only thing missing was the balloons."
Smith was the only Patriot in double figures, but not the only JUCO transfer from Mason to show his potential. Darryl Monroe (nine points on 4-for-4 shooting with eight rebounds) proved he is capable of giving the Patriots a second inside option when the Florida International defense sagged around Will Thomas (eight points). Monroe, a 6-7 junior, began the season as starter but lost his job after showing a tendency to get into early foul trouble while producing little.
But the night belonged to Smith, who likely will see more minutes in bigger games after Larranaga was hesitant to use him in tighter games earlier. In practices Sunday and last night's shootaround, the Patriots worked on a perimeter screen to get Smith open.
"I was just waiting for my time -- and when my time came, I capitalized," said Smith, the fourth-leading scorer in junior college last season at 23.1 points. "Everybody was like, 'Finally!' That is what they expected me to be."
Howard 75, St. Francis (Pa.) 69
Eugene Myatt scored 15 points, including a crucial 3-pointer with 35 seconds left, to lead the Bison past the Red Flash at Burr Gymnasium.
No. 8 Marquette 65, Valparaiso 62
VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Dominic James hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left and scored the final 18 points for the Golden Eagles in a win over the Crusaders.
?The Associated Press contributed to this article.