George Mason switched up its starting point guard Monday in its NIT Season Tip Off consolation game against Brown.
It also improved on how it valued possession —- though not nearly enough for coach Paul Hewitt.
The Patriots coasted to a 74-48 rout of Brown, a solid change of pace for a team that’s already played three overtime games this season. And it came with freshman Corey Edwards running the offense.
Edwards replaced sophomore Bryon Allen and had six points, four assists and one turnover in 24 minutes for Mason (3-2).
“He does a good job of pressuring the basketball,” Hewitt said. “He does a good job of just getting us settled into our stuff. Not just running and trying to force action. That doesn’t mean we’ve given up on Bryon. Bryon is going to have to be a key contributor for us.”
On this particular night, it didn’t matter. The Patriots used a 24-6 run toward the end of the first half to break things open and shake off Saturday’s overtime loss at Florida Atlantic.
Nine players logged double-digit minutes for Mason, including guard Sherrod Wright. The sophomore missed Saturday’s game with a hand injury, but played effectively for 16 minutes before Hewitt decided to rest him with the game out of hand.
Edwards’ elevation to the lineup for his first career start provided a glimpse of how the Patriots might look with a natural point guard. He wasn’t perfect —- Hewitt notably observed the absence of any defensive rebounds —- but Mason did establish its preferred tempo against the Bears (2-3).
“That’s my style of play, running up and down, running the team and being an extension of coach on the floor,” Edwards said.
Hewitt clearly is not inclined to give up on his preferred pace. And the Patriots’ early problems with turnovers are understandable, considering the absence of experience in the backcourt.
Edwards is a freshman. Allen, Wright and Vertrail Vaughns are consistently playing extended minutes for the first time in their careers. And senior guard Andre Cornelius is suspended and still has five games to miss before he is set to return Dec. 21 against Duquesne.
It leaves Mason in a position to tinker with its available pieces before taking a slight turn when Cornelius returns. And after averaging 18.3 turnovers in their first four games, the Patriots were more dedicated to taking care of the ball Monday.
Mason committed just 11 turnovers against Brown, including only four in the second half. Yet there was enough miscues —- such as passing behind players to create potential fast-break opportunities for the Bears rather than leading passes that, at worst, would scoot out of bounds —- that left Hewitt seeking improvement.
“There’s at least six or eight points we gave up because we just couldn’t execute that pass,” Hewitt said. “We’ll keep working at it. I think we’re athletic and we’re a team that can run and put pressure on people. We start passing the ball more accurately, I think we’ll get two or three more easy baskets a game.”
—- Patrick Stevens