Mason, UVa headline Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic

Mason, UVa headline Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic
December 21, 2012, 12:30 pm
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If only, if only late leads against New Mexico and Northern Iowa hadn’t morphed into blown chances. George Mason fans wonder such things. So does the basketball coach.

"It's one game, but that game along with the New Mexico game are two games we really let slip away," Paul Hewitt said. "Both of those teams beat us fair and square, but we did not play well down the stretch. We need to get this bad taste out of our mouth."

In their last game, the Patriots lost an 82-77 overtime heartbreaker against Northern Iowa while a final minute collapse against New Mexico led to a one-point, pre-Thanksgiving setback.

Obviously, nothing can turn those frown-worthy losses upside down. Therefore, there is no reason for wasting holiday wishes on such matters. Besides, the Patriots (6-4) will have had two weeks' worth of reflection by the time they face Richmond (9-3) on Saturday as part of the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic doubleheader at the Richmond Coliseum.

Television coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Network followed by nightcap pitting Virginia, winners of eight straight, against Old Dominion.

Still, if wishes do come true, what’s at the top of Paul Hewitt's basketball list heading into the Patriots (6-4) final two non-conference games of the season and with CAA play a calendar flip away?

"Consistency on offense," Hewitt cracked. "I want that gift."

Outside of leading scorer Sherrod Wright -- at 16.4 points, the junior guard is the only Patriot averaging double figures -- steady point producing and play execution hasn't been the norm. As a way to "brush up on ball movement, create good shot opportunities" and remove any layoff rust, the team has been in "training camp mode" since final exams ended on Tuesday.

"I think it's worked out well," the second-year coach said of the unusually long break. "I'm worried a little bit about our game-condition: we're in shape, but game shape is a little different than practice shape...I think we'll be ready."

The coach hopes his offense and interior options will be ready for a Spiders team that already owns victories over Wake Forest and three CAA programs this season including William & Mary and James Madison.

Much of that hope depends on point guard duo of Corey Edwards and Bryon Allen. Against Northern Iowa, the Patriots' primary ball handlers combined for 21 points but also eight turnovers. Hewitt said Edwards remains the starter, but he's been encouraged with both players mental and on-ball progress during recent practices.

"If anything I think these last couple of weeks has given Corey and Bryon a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and kind of evaluate what they've been doing," Hewitt said on Thursday. "Today in practice, both of them were exceptional."

Though the Patriots have advantages inside, Richmond's leading scorer and rebounder Derrick Williams "is an absolute beast down there," Hewitt said. The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder averages 14.8 points and 7.0 rebounds while offering a counter to the Spiders array of 3-point shooters.

For the most part Virginia's been rather exceptional since losing two of its first three games, including the season-opener at George Mason. Fueled by their stifling defense, the Cavaliers (9-2) eight straight wins have been by an average 18.8 points, including Wednesday's sloppy 75-57 triumph over Morgan State. Playing for the first time in 11 days, Virginia could not shake its MEAC opponent until a late 12-2 run proved decisive.

“We got an earful at halftime and an earful after the game," junior forward Akil Mitchell said following the win. "I kind of expected it. We didn’t play up to our potential defensively. I felt like we were a little rusty offensively and we let our defense slide as a result and that can’t happen."

Against the Bears, Mitchell tallied 15 points and 12 rebounds -- plus 7 assists -- for his fourth double-double during the eight-game stretch.

Little has gone right for the usually formidable Monarchs (1-10) during any stretch this season, their last one as a member of the CAA. Since its own win over Morgan State on Nov. 10, Old Dominion has lost nine straight, the latest coming against future-CAA program College of Charleston. Three-point clanking has been a running theme for coach Blaine Taylor's squad. Against the Cougars, the Monarchs missed 12 of 15 3-point attempts in Tuesday's 76-65 loss. Center and leading scorer DeShawn Painter finished with 15 points.

George Mason wraps up non-conference play at Big East program South Florida on Dec. 29 before opening CAA action against Northeastern on Jan. 3. When the time comes, the legitimate significance of those games will be emphasized. As for Saturday's clash, Hewitt did not shy away from its magnitude.

"I think this game in particular is very, very important because we're coming off a very difficult loss," Hewitt stated 48 hours before facing Richmond and participating in an event with three in-state rivals. "This is a game that can also impact recruiting for us. This is a big, big game for us."