Patriots hope for repeat of conference dominance in CAA

George Mason enjoyed one the finest regular-season runs through the Colonial Athletic Association in the league’s history a season ago, ripping off 14 straight conference wins in January and February.

Ready or not, the Patriots’ attempt to replicate that success starts this weekend.

Mason opens CAA play Saturday at Towson, the lone December outing in an 18-game conference slate the Patriots mastered a year ago en route to a 16-2 league record.

“First conference game, we’re very excited about it,” guard Bryon Allen said. “We’re going to try to do better than last year. … We have a lot to prove.”

Indeed Mason (5-2) does, even after fending off Patriot League favorite Bucknell 61-57 on Wednesday.

The Patriots remain a team facing some degree of personnel flux early in coach Paul Hewitt’s first season. Versatile forward Paris Bennett finally made his season debut Wednesday, logging five minutes after missing a half-dozen games with an ankle injury.

However, point guard Corey Edwards sat out Wednesday with a concussion after starting the previous two games. Hewitt said the Patriots would be cautious with Edwards after he suffered the injury in practice.

Mason also is four games away from the return of senior guard Andre Cornelius from a suspension, and his addition will be a boost for the Patriots’ perimeter potency.

It might also alleviate some of the droughts Mason was prone to against Bucknell. The Patriots went scoreless for more than six minutes in the first half, squandering a 10-point lead in the process. They also went nearly eight minutes without a field goal in the second half as the Bison erased a nine-point lead.

“Offensively, we have to get better,” Hewitt said. “I think we’re still missing some shots that are makable, but we’ll work that out.”

Still, it’s not hard to see improvement. The Patriots upended a feisty foe despite the Bison’s willingness to double down on forward Ryan Pearson and force someone else to inflict damage.

Sherrod Wright, whose explosiveness and consistency have stabilized Mason’s backcourt, had 16 points. Allen, who was benched for Edwards last week, asserted himself with a 12-point performance that notably included no turnovers in 39 minutes.

“Over the last three games, defensively and offensively, I think we’ve been playing better,” Wright said. “The first two or three games we weren’t there, but now we’re starting to flow.”

The Patriots hope that continues against Towson (0-6), which has dropped 25 straight dating to last season. But as Hewitt makes his CAA debut (as will Towson coach Pat Skerry), he realizes league play will be different from what Mason experienced last month.

“It’s going to ratchet up a little bit more,” Hewitt said. “The speed of the game, as the games become more important, becomes faster and faster.”

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