Senior Cam Long (20) gets double teamed by Ohio State University players during the Patriots third round NCAA game last Sunday. The Patriots 98-66 loss brought their successful season to a close. Photo by John Powell

The men’s basketball season came to a close last Sunday night in Cleveland, Ohio after a 98-66 loss to Ohio State University in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The loss brought an end to an unexpectedly successful season for the Patriots. Coming off a brutal loss to Fairfield in the first round of the postseason tournament last March, the Patriots looked far from winning a CAA regular season champion and NCAA tournament bid this season.

Beating a Harvard team that many analysts, including Dick Vitale and Doug Gottlieb, felt deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament, the Patriots opened their 2010-2011 season with a win. That game at the Patriot Center would be just the first of 14 home wins for the Patriots, as they went undefeated playing in front of their home crowd.

Senior Cam Long had a strong campaign, leading the team in scoring (15.1 points per game), steals (47) and minutes (33 minutes per game). His experience proved beneficial throughout the season as he lead the Patriots to a CAA regular season title and the most efficient offensive and defensive team in the CAA in regular season play. Long, who has played at George Mason University for all four years, has had a cool, calm and collected demeanor throughout his college career and was a fine leader for a relatively young Patriots squad.

With a career-high 30 points against James Madison, Long proved his scoring ability to the college basketball world and began to draw attention from NBA scouts.The most spectacular aspect of Long’s game is not just his skill but his intelligence on the court. He always seemed comfortable and confident when running the offense. This personal quality will be one of the biggest losses for the Patriots as they prepare for next season.

With the help of senior guard Isaiah Tate as the sixth man, the Patriots fielded a relatively deep team along with redshirt freshman guard Vertrail Vaughns, sophomore forwards Johnny Williams and Paris Bennett. Tate provided a spark off the bench with a tenacious defensive intensity and opportune shooting. He had a clutch performance against James Madison with 12 points including key shots in the waning minutes of the 75-73 thriller in Harrisonburg. Down the stretch, Tate was heavily used by Coach Larranaga as a defensive presence to matchup against a team’s best player. With an injury to his wrist, he had a minor setback in his shooting and began to dip in his 3-point efficiency and shooting in general. A big 3-pointer by Tate in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Villanova led to a dramatic game-winning 3-pointer from sophomore guard Luke Hancock.

The senior leadership from guards Cam Long and Isaiah Tate will surely be missed by next season’s team.

However, we return three future seniors in forwards Mike Morrison and Ryan Pearson and guard Andre Cornelius as well as future junior forward Luke Hancock.
Morrison averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 junior provides the Patriots with a defensive presence in the paint and led the team in blocks with 40 on the year.

Pearson had a breakout year for the Patriots, finishing the season as the second leading scorer (14.2 ppg) and rebounds per game (6.7). He will be the leading returning scorer and has the potential to improve on this year, as he has each year in Fairfax.

Cornelius had a solid year averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting efficiently from deep. His ability to shoot off the dribble and catch a shoot made him a constant threat behind the arc. Along with Vertrail Vaughns, Rashad Whack and Sherrod Wright, Cornelius will have options on offense in a pretty talented backcourt.

Hancock had an impressive season as well, averaging 10.9 ppg and led the team in assists with 4.2 per game.

The cagey, deceptively athletic sophomore guard built on a freshman campaign in which he was named to the All-CAA reshman team and a Mid-Major Freshman All-American. Hancock is a terrific passer and is a great fit for the Patriots in scoring and facilitating the offense to get shots for his teammates.

After the best regular season record in George Mason men’s basketball history, the Patriots team of next year will have a lot to live up to. The loss of Long and Tate will sting to start the year but this team has all of the weapons to win in the CAA and make another trip to the NCAA tournament.

Sherrod Wright will fill in nicely for Long and will be a key cog in the Patriot’s success next year. Along with Johnny Williams, Rashad Whack and Bryon Allen, who showed promise with their performances in the NCAA tournament, the Patriots’ underclassmen will be main contributors to next year’s team.