- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

George Mason basketball coach Paul Hewitt smiled easily Monday night after a 74-48 rout of Brown. There was no overtime, no harrowing finish and no loss to stew over.

There was, however, plenty to improve upon, a common theme early in the Patriots’ season.

Mason (4-2) at times has sputtered during an opening stretch of six contests in 12 days that ended with Tuesday’s 66-46 victory over Albany at Patriot Center, a plethora of turnovers the root of many problems.

“Some of the close calls, especially the games we had last week, were about making smarter decisions with the ball and making more accurate passes with the ball,” Hewitt said. “With that said, I like where we’re going. I like this team. I tell people every day, it’s a really good group of kids. They’re a lot of fun to coach. But if we want to be as good as we’re capable of being, they have to keep growing.”

It will probably happen, if only because it almost has to.

The Patriots’ backcourt is littered with players settling into vastly expanded roles, if they’re not newcomers altogether.

Freshman point guard Corey Edwards made his first start Monday. Sophomore Sherrod Wright, who returned after a one-game hiatus induced by a hand injury, is coming off a redshirt year. Starting wing Vertrail Vaughns averaged 9.5 minutes a year ago. Freshman Vaughn Gray’s role slowly has expanded, and he scored 10 points Monday after managing 13 points in Mason’s first four games.

Then there’s sophomore Bryon Allen, who started the first four games at the point but came off the bench Monday.

“I think Bryon has a lot of ability, but maybe he’s having an adjustment to playing point guard full time,” Hewitt said. “I thought he played better [Monday]. … Bryon’s got more in him and it’s our job to get that out of him.”

One of Mason’s pressing questions is how much it can get out of its entire backcourt — and whether it can avoid more missteps in nonconference play.

Saturday’s overtime loss at Florida Atlantic, a team picked to win its division in the Sun Belt, isn’t the sort of setback likely to hurt the Patriots. The same can’t be said for last week’s overtime stumble to Florida International, which has endured 11 straight losing seasons and isn’t expected to crack the top half of the Sun Belt.

That’s a potential RPI buster capable of haunting Mason in March. Avoiding another while the backcourt matures is a priority in the coming weeks.

“There’s still a lot of things we have to work on,” forward Ryan Pearson said. “We’re nowhere near as complete as we can be. We knew this coming in. We knew we had me, Mike [Morrison] and Andre [Cornelius] and our seniors would have to step up and lead this team in the right direction because we knew we had a lot of young guys.”

Pearson observed there were already plenty of changes as Mason transitioned from former coach Jim Larranaga to Hewitt. But the absence of Cornelius, who is suspended after pleading guilty to credit card fraud, hasn’t helped.

The senior, who ranks seventh in school history in 3-point percentage and 10th in 3-pointers made, won’t be available until Dec. 21 against Duquesne. That leaves the Patriots another four games to mature before the backcourt adds another element.

“There’s a number of things we have to get better at real fast, and we can’t look at it as ‘OK, Andre’s coming back and he’s going to solve all the problems’ because he’s going to have his growing pains, too,” Hewitt said. “I’m sure because he’s going to be rusty. [But] I like where we’re going.”

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