There was no game story last night on George Mason’s exhibition game against Bowie State because, really, let’s face it: No one in their right mind really wants to read about the course of a game that doesn’t count.
As close as it was throughout —- Mason won 76-72 over the Division II Bulldogs, whose coaches rightfully were enthused with their team’s effort as players returned to the locker room —- the final score doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Observations on individual players? Those are worthwhile, especially since this is the last time the public will see the Patriots before their Nov. 9 opener against Virginia.
With that in mind, here are some takeaways from Thursday night …
1. Freshman Marko Gujanicic is going to be a factor in the frontcourt.
The 6-foot-8 Serbian might not do one thing eye-popping, but he possesses an exceptionally well-rounded game. He scored 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting, generally making the most of his 24 minutes.
“He’s a veteran guy,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “This is not like AAU-bashing or American basketball bashing, but one of the things that occurred to us early in practice is he’s never really played a game that didn’t mean anything. He’s either played for his country or he played in a pro league —- he obviously wasn’t a pro, but he played with other pros. When other people are playing for their money or playing for their country, possessions mean something.”
Mason’s rotation of big men is fascinating. Erik Copes, Jonathan Arledge and Johnny Williams all bring some valuable elements, and Gujanicic wound up playing more minutes than any of them in the exhibition. His progress is more than worth monitoring in the coming weeks.
2. Sherrod Wright’s absence will end soon.
Mason played without the junior, who is the team’s top returning scorer. Wright also did not dress for Mason’s Midnight Madness festivities two weeks ago.
“Sherrod will be back,” Hewitt said. “As college kids do, he did something not very intelligent this summer and we took the necessary action. But he’ll back. He’s been practicing and he’s healthy.”
3. Bryon Allen should return in the next couple weeks.
The Patriots were also without their point guard, who sat out with a strain of the mid-trapezius (a muscle in the neck/shoulder area). Down a pair of projected starting guards, Mason was sloppy (19 turnovers) and could never entirely shake Bowie State.
4. If the offense is run right, it’s going to go through Copes.
Here’s the reality: There aren’t many guys in the CAA quite like Copes. The 6-foot-8, 245 pound center has a chance to become an incredibly efficient player around the basket, especially now that he’s the focal point of the Patriots’ offense.
Skeptical? After Bowie State tied it at 64, Copes hit a jumper in the paint, threw down a dunk as the trail man off a Corey Edwards feed and then hit a layup and made the ensuing free throw. He had nine of his 13 points after the break.
One thing he’ll need to improve his his foul shooting. Copes was 3-for-6 at the line, which is a step up from the 41.9 percent he made last year. Copes is going to get fouled. A fair bit, actually, and probably often in end-game situations.
5. Williams could be a significant matchup headache.
This isn’t a shock; Williams’ weight loss during a redshirt season to heal from shoulder surgery was well known this past summer.
Nonetheless, the guy known as J2 looks different than the player who was essentially tethered to the paint for the first half of his career. A 3-pointer to beat the buzzer at the end of the first half attests to that.
That’s not a guy who will be easy to defend, especially since he can still work inside if need be. He had six rebounds in 18 minutes, Mason’s most efficient man on the glass. His turnovers (five) were a concern, but he’ll be important in helping to replace Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison.
6. Seton Hall transfer Anali Okoloji was active.
Okoloji is sort of a forgotten man after sitting out all of last year, but offered spunkiness at both ends on Thursday.
Okoloji drew the start as Mason went with a more traditional two-guard, two-forward, one-center lineup and finished with 11 points (on 5-for-8 shooting) as well as three rebounds and two steals.
“Everybody sat today and saw Anali basically fight his way into the starting lineup,” Hewitt said. “Trust me, he’s not interested in giving that back to anybody. Based on what he did today, he’s going to start when we go to our next competition.”
Now, how many teams will allow Okoloji to charge freely along the baseline for layups (as he did a couple times in the second half) remains to be seen. But the one thing Hewitt bemoaned was the need for the Patriots’ level of competitiveness to rise. Okoloji (along with Copes and Gujanicic) was among Mason’s most feisty players against Bowie State.
7. Bowie State acquitted itself well.
It’s not hard to imagine the Bulldogs rolling up another 20-win season at the Division II level. Chances are, they won’t commit 27 turnovers against a non-Division I team. Byron Westmorland, Bowie’s top returning scorer, dropped 30 on Mason while making six 3-pointers.
8. Bank on Jalen Jenkins playing at some point.
The freshman did not appear in the exhibition game, but that appeared to be a function of Hewitt trying to get quality minutes for other players. The Patriots went 11 players deep —- including five in the frontcourt —- and there might not be a ton of minutes to be had this season for the newcomer from Yonkers.
9. Vertrail Vaughns was more willing to penetrate the lane, though some of that was a function of running the point.
Nearly half of Vaughns’ shots last season (118 of 243) came from 3-point land. He didn’t try one 3-pointer in seven attempts against Bowie State. But with Allen injured and Corey Edwards in foul trouble, someone had to bring the ball up the floor.
Hewitt insisted Vaughns’ perimeter presence will be valuable to the Patriots this season, and there’s no reason to doubt him. Still, Vaughns looked more assertive and engaged than he did for much of last year.
10. Good luck figuring out Mason’s backcourt rotation.
Thursday was instructive to see how the frontcourt might function. The same isn’t the case for the backcourt.
Edwards generally made good decisions and functioned as a distributor when he was on the floor. Vaughn Gray isn’t bashful as he enters his sophomore year. Freshman Patrick Holloway played only nine minutes. Then there’s Allen and Wright.
—- Patrick Stevens