- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

At some point in Wednesday night’s game against Duquesne — probably during the first half — George Mason coach Paul Hewitt will send Andre Cornelius to the Patriot Center scorer’s table.

Finally, 10 games and nearly six weeks late, the guard’s senior season will begin.

“I might cry,” Cornelius said. “A little tear might come out or something like that. I’m going to make sure I keep my composure and don’t get out of my character on the court and try to do too much that I can’t do.”

Mason will be content if the 5-foot-10, 174-pounder sticks to what made him a valuable component the past three years.

It was easy to forget after Cornelius‘ legal issues. He was arrested in September and suspended indefinitely, and eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor credit card fraud in November.

Cornelius‘ penalty was 10 games, nearly a third of his final season in Fairfax. It meant watching from the bench during home games and not traveling on some early road trips.

“It was real tough, but I couldn’t cry about it,” Cornelius said. “I just had to man up and take responsibility for my actions. My coaches helped me get through it and told me to keep my head up.”

Now, it’s his turn to buoy the Patriots (7-3), who to date have played without their top four guards from the team that reached the NCAA tournament’s round of 32 in March.

Cam Long and Isaiah Tate graduated. Luke Hancock transferred to Louisville after Hewitt’s hire. Cornelius was left as the backcourt’s presumed source of stability.

He averaged 9.5 points and 2.3 rebounds last year, yet his greatest offensive contribution will come on the perimeter. He made 61 3-pointers a year ago, and he ranks 10th in Mason history with 138 for his career.

In Cornelius‘ absence, the Patriots struggled to generate a steady outside threat. Mason ranks 11th in the CAA in 3-pointers made with 4.3 per game (ahead of only winless Towson), and only Vertrail Vaughns (15) has connected more than 10 times from beyond the 3-point line.

“The potential is that it’s a significant change because if there’s an area I think we need to continue to improve on, it’s outside shooting,” Hewitt said. “Now, I see some really good things in practice. We do a lot of shooting drills, and I see guys becoming more consistent. But to add a guy like that who was the leading 3-point shooter [on the team], he could have a big impact on our team.”

Cornelius rattled off a list of ways he’s improved since a year ago, when he started every game for a team that at one point won 16 consecutive games. That includes ball-handling, his jump shot and “way better” work at the defensive end.

The last facet stands out to forward Ryan Pearson, who like the rest of the Patriots is eager to get the program’s third senior back in the fold.

“it’s definitely what this team needs to take more steps forward,” Pearson said. “His shooting from the outside is definitely going to help us a lot, but I think it’s starts with his defense, with him pressuring 94 feet. He’s that type of guy where he can guard the other team’s point guard.”

Hewitt said Cornelius will “play quality minutes” but not start against Duquesne (6-5). He also expects a transition of a few contests as Cornelius re-adjusts to game conditions.

Meanwhile, Cornelius‘ late start carries with it some lessons he won’t soon forget.

“I’m not a regular student; I’m a basketball player and a student,” Cornelius said. “I’m looked at as a role model, so I have to carry myself like that and I have to make better decisions.”

NOTE:Hewitt said guard Bryon Allen has missed some practice this week with a stomach illness. The sophomore is averaging 7.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists and has started eight of the Patriots’ 10 games.

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