Guard Andre Cornelius made an instant impression on Paul Hewitt when he practiced for the first time in November — so much so that the George Mason coach wondered when he would see the same player in games.
It turned out it was just in time for the Patriots to benefit in conference play.
Cornelius scored a season-high 20 points, helping Mason dispatch William & Mary 70-56 on Monday in its CAA home opener before 5,017 at Patriot Center.
“When I was shooting the ball, it seemed like the rim was big; it seemed like I was going to hit everything,” Cornelius said. “That’s what I was going for. It felt good every time the ball left my hand.”
Mike Morrison added 14 points for the Patriots (10-4, 2-0 CAA), who erased an early 10-point deficit against the injury-addled Tribe (2-12, 0-2).
Give Cornelius ample credit for the comeback.
The senior, who was suspended for the first 10 games, was especially active in the three minutes before halftime. Cornelius connected on a 3-pointer, set up Morrison’s fastbreak dunk with a slick outlet pass, took a charge, made another 3-pointer and added a transition layup.
Hewitt turned to his staff during the sequence and said Cornelius looked as though he’d settled in four games into his final season. William & Mary coach Tony Shaver, already plenty familiar with Cornelius from past seasons, couldn’t disagree.
“He was sensational tonight,” Shaver said. “I thought he turned the game.”
The Tribe’s deficit gone, Mason set to work clinching their conference home opener immediately after the break. The Patriots scored the first 16 points of the second half, a stretch capped with another Cornelius 3-pointer.
Overall, Mason constructed a 26-2 run sandwiching halftime to pull away from a William & Mary team struggling to stay afloat with two of its top six players injured. Cornelius scored 11 points during the Patriots’ torrid stretch.
“I’m getting back in my comfort zone,” Cornelius said. “Every day, my teammates help me in practice. They did a good job of getting me open today, especially [Morrison] setting screens to get me open.”
It was hardly a perfect day for Mason, which faces perennial CAA contender Old Dominion, surprising Georgia State, preseason league favorite Drexel and ever-pesky James Madison in its next four games. All but the Georgia State contest are on the road.
The Patriots managed only one offensive rebound in the first half, and their offensive rebounding rate of 23.1 percent was their worst of the season.
Hewitt also was vexed with his young reserves; freshmen Erik Copes, Corey Edwards and Vaughn Gray and sophomore Jonathan Arledge combined for six points, five rebounds, four assists and eight turnovers in 51 minutes.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t a lost day for Mason’s bench thanks to Cornelius, who produced his first 20-point night since Feb. 19 at Northern Iowa.
“He’s not worrying any more about what position he’s playing; he’s just going out and playing,” Hewitt said. “I think he realized in our motion offense that he’ll have the ball in his hands enough.”
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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