Cam Long shoots a three point shot to extend Mason’s lead in the second half of Saturday’s game. Photo by Peter Flint.

When the George Mason University Patriots took the floor Saturday evening at the Patriot Center, you could feel the intensity and the anxiousness that a home opener brings.

The crowd was ready and most importantly the players were ready to finally play a meaningful game.

Coming out of the gates, the Patriots lead by senior guard Cam Long seemed to be forcing things and trying to get off to a hot start.

“Everyone was going real fast, a lot faster than they were normally used to, rushing things where we really should have slowed down,” Long said. “We missed layups and once we finally slowed it down, calmed it down and got the jitters out, we picked it back up.”

The Harvard Crimson after coming off their best record in school history with a 21-7 record in 2009-2010 and making an appearance in their first postseason tournament in the Tournament since 1946, set out to build on their phenomenal season last year.

Coach Tommy Amaker, Fairfax native and former All America from Duke, set the offense to feed the inside, taking advantage of their size and enabling open looks from behind the arc.

In the first half, the main focus was getting the ball to their top returning scorer junior forward Keith Wright.

Wright made his presence felt inside on the offensive and defensive side of the ball with 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks at the break.
Even with Wright’s strong half, the Crimson shot miserably from three at 11.1 percent for the half and received little else in the way of point production from the rest of the lineup.

The Patriots headed into the locker room with a slim 32-28 lead.

To open the second half, head coach Jim Larranaga stressed more defensive pressure and it translated on the court. Steals by Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson led to points and got the Patriots off to a strong start.

“Our defense was really good to start the second half and we were able to get a double digit lead,” said Larranaga. “Offensively, we missed some easy shots; we were very anxious and we did some things out of character.”

Once the Patriots started pressuring the ball on defense, it led to turnovers and fast breaks for easy layups. The Crimson continued to force the issue inside with Wright but could not seem to find scoring help from the rest of the lineup.

Nothing seemed to drop for Harvard in the second half as they finished the half with a dismal 30 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three.

The Patriots were able to build and sustain a 15 to 20 point lead for the remainder of the game, based on Harvard’s poor second half shooting as well as a higher defensive intensity.

The Patriots received a strong effort from sophomore guard Luke Hancock who finished with 14 points, three rebounds, and two steals, leading the Patriots in scoring.

“We turned it up. Guys were getting steals and we just trying to push it and turn up the intensity and the pressure,” said Hancock.
The Patriots were able to seal out the win with late free throws from Ryan Pearson to take the 66-53 win against a highly competitive Harvard team.

The Crimson head back to Boston to take on the Holy Cross Crusaders on Wednesday.

The Patriots take their momentum from the opening win to Charleston, South Carolina as they compete in ESPN’s third annual Charleston Classic, where they will face Charlotte on Thursday. The game starts at 8:30 pm and will be shown on MASN.