Senior Cam Long drives through traffic to score against the Towson Tigers in Thursday’s game. Photo by Peter Flint

Offense wins games. But defense wins championships.

If that statement holds true, the George Mason University Patriots have themselves in prime position to make a run at the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship in March. And, most importantly, they have themselves in great position to make some noise in the 2011 version of NCAA March Madness.

Their three point defense ranks among the top-20 in the entire country while their scoring defense weighs in for 35th best in the nation. As their team defense has progressed throughout the season, the offense has benefitted greatly and allowed the Patriots to post a +12 scoring margin, good for 28th in the county, throughout the first 22 games of the season.

“Right now, we feel like we are clicking real well,” said junior forward Mike Morrison. “Everybody is on the same page and playing together. We’re doing a great job of adjusting to each team and our confidence is very high right now.”

Mason’s stellar defense was on display in the Patriot Center on Wednesday night as they held Towson to a mere 42 percent shooting in their 84-58 victory. In that contest, the Patriots notched eight steals and were able to convert each of those steals into two-point baskets. The anchor of the defense, senior guard Cam Long, recorded five of the team’s seven steals while contributing an impressive 12 points and eight assists to the stat sheet.

“I was in the right position,” said Long. “But because we were playing great team and individual defense, I was able to jump the lanes and pick up some easy steals.”

In Saturday’s 85-69 victory over the William & Mary Tribe, the Patriots defense tightened up in the second half and limited a very good shooting team to just 42.3 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes of play. Mason posted six steals in the contest and was able to convert for 10 points of turnovers compared to just five points for the Tribe.

Long, again, led the way for the Patriots with a 20-point performance. His impressive performance was highlighted by a buzzer-beating three-point basket to end the first half that turned the tide for the Patriots and gave the team momentum heading into the break.

“I was capable of knocking down that shot,” Long said. “And it definitely gave us a lot of momentum heading into the second half.”

Sophomore guard Luke Hancock has played a major role in the team’s success as of late. He averaged 18 points and five assists in what was one of his most productive weeks as a Patriot. His presence on both sides of the floor is irreplaceable for Coach Jim Larranaga as he, Long and Isaah Tate anchor the back court of the Patriots potent defensive attack.

“We have to understand that we have to always be focused and always be ready for anything on the defensive side,” Long said. “We have executed a lot better lately and that shows in our success.”

The Patriots will look to continue that success and build upon their seven-game winning streak as they take on Hofstra and Old Dominion in the Patriot Center this week.

Morrison moves into top-12 in two categories

After a week in which he posted an average of 7.5 points and four rebounds in two games for the Patriots, junior forward Mike Morrison has moved himself into the top-12 in two categories on the Patriots all-time list. His career field goal shooting mark of .539 ranks tied for 10th and his 97 career blocks are tied for sixth all-time.

Long joins 1,000 point club

In what was an absolutely dominant week for senior guard Cam Long, the Palm Bay, Fla. native has scored 1,246 points in his career at George Mason. Long is now in sole possession of 19th place all-time as he passed John Vaughan with his 20-point performance on Saturday afternoon against William & Mary.

Mason ranks in the top-30 in RPI

For the first time since Feb. 26, 2006, the Patriots have cracked the top-30 in RPI rating according to Collegiate Basketball News. The team is one of five CAA teams ranked in the top 75 and is the highest ranked conference team at 29th in the nation.

Coach L: Winning machine

Coach Jim Larranaga is the winningest coach in conference and school history. His victory over the James Madison Dukes on Jan. 22 marked the 260th victory for the Patriots coach and was also the 520th win for Mason as a Division I basketball team.
With victories over Delaware, Towson and William & Mary since then, Larranaga now owns more than half of the Patriots Divsion I victories in his 14 seasons as head coach.