- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

George Mason guard Cam Long came to the bench at a timeout with just less than eight minutes remaining Monday to find some unexpected instructions.

The Patriots, heretofore reliant on big man Darryl Monroe and struggling from the outside against Georgia State, would place their chances of remaining atop the Colonial Athletic Association in the hands of a four-guard lineup.

“Even though the halfcourt defense wasn’t giving up a lot of points, we weren’t scoring, either,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “We needed to get some fast-break opportunities, and normally smaller, quicker guys in a short spurt [can do that]. I didn’t expect to play it the whole eight minutes.”

But given the results, he had no reason not to. Utilizing the four-guard look for the first time all season, George Mason rallied for a 58-52 victory at Patriot Center to stay unbeaten in conference play.

Long scored 18 points and added nine rebounds, and Monroe posted a double-double for the Patriots (10-3, 3-0), who were sluggish just two days after scoring 101 points against UNC Wilmington. That was a bit of a surprise against the Panthers (4-10, 2-1), who entered the night in a three-way share of the conference lead with George Mason and Northeastern. But after an uneven 32 minutes in which the Patriots squandered a 10-point lead, it was clear something needed to change.

Larranaga, concerned about a nonexistent transition game, looked to his assistants and wondered whether the time had come to insert a fourth guard.

Senior John Vaughan (six points) was enduring an unusually slow night, and Dre Smith struggled for much of the first half. Meanwhile, Louis Birdsong faced first-half foul trouble and never seemed himself.

So in the posse of guards went, Long and freshman Andre Cornelius joining Smith and Vaughan. Almost instantly, it worked - not just on defense but with a 21-point burst in the final 7:32.

“We were just trying to get the ball moving,” Monroe said. “Coach was stressing to pick it up on defense, pick it up on defense. So we put the guards in [and did that].”

Cornelius connected on a 3-pointer with 6:42 left, tying the score at 40-40 to erase the Panthers’ final lead. On the next possession, Monroe swatted Xavier Hansbro’s shot right to Smith, who drove more than half the floor for a layup.

The guards finished things off, too. Smith’s basket with 3:08 left made it 47-42, and after missing his foul shot, he tipped the rebound back to the perimeter. Long snared it and made a 3-pointer and later added another to help clinch the win.

“It made them a little more aggressive on the offensive end and helped them some,” Georgia State coach Rod Barnes said. “We felt at some point they might do that. I thought it gave the guys more confidence and a little more room to work with. Rather than having three guys on the perimeter trying to penetrate, they had four.”

It also showed the Patriots another path to victory this season. While a typical three-guard, two-forward set worked well for much of the nonconference season, it cannot hurt to have won with an unconventional lineup.

And best of all - beyond retaining the top spot in the CAA - it won’t be nearly the same shock the next time Larranaga rolls out an unexpected lineup.

“When Coach L called that out, I was kind of surprised because they’re kind of big and I had to go on the big man,” Long said. “But on the offensive end, because we had four guards and Darryl on the inside, it just opened up everything a lot more.”

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