Fans in Fairfax were shocked when the Preseason Player of the Year votes were tallied and their senior forward was not at the top of the list. How could Ryan Pearson play second fiddle to an injured Kent Bazemore to open the season?

Bazemore finished last season scoring 12.3 points per game, but added 98 assists and 76 steals to his game as a swing man. The CAA is known as a defensive league — perimeter players can steal the ball in the blink of an eye — but after winning the postseason tournament, the Monarchs fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, Pearson was coming off the best season of his career. With nearly seven rebounds and 14.2 points per game, he anchored the Patriots’ frontcourt. His consistent play propelled Mason to finishing at the top of the regular season standings and into the NCAA’s Round of 32. Not even a coaching change could hold back what this player would unleash in his senior year.

by Stephen Kline

“It was difficult. Different coaches have their different styles, coaching styles. His style, I want to say, is more free,” Pearson said. “We just do what we know to do. He tells us what he wants from us and he knows how he wants it done.”

With fellow upperclassman Andre Cornelius benched for the first ten games of the year, it was up to him to step up his game. So the forward who throws up awkward shots accepted the role. Humbly, of course.

“I’m just looking to get better,” Pearson said. “Right now, I’m just trying to focus on what we have to do as a team to win out the rest of the games.”

Three of the team’s first four regular-season games went into overtime, and a clearly upset Pearson wanted to take responsibility when his team lost. The rough non-conference schedule set them up nicely heading into winter break.

Since the Patriots’ matchup against Manhattan, the team has won 13 of their last 15 and are looking once again to the NCAA Tournament, riding the hot hands of Pearson.

In nine of the team’s last 12 games, Pearson held either the team rebounding high or the scoring high to improve his record-chasing numbers to 8.5 rebounds and 17.7 points per game. Those numbers stand at fifth and third in the conference rankings, respectively, he is sailing up the ranks of the George Mason record books.

“He’s having a big season. He’s very difficult to guard. I don’t know what coaches say on the scouting report to handle him,” fellow senior Mike Morrison said. “He scores from the outside, mid range. It’s difficult to defend the man. He’s having a very good season.”

Meanwhile, everyone else from the preseason list has fallen off. The only claim to fame Bazemore has is his second-place spot on the steals list. Drexel’s Samme Givens is fifth on the percentage list. Those at the top of the statistical lists are looking more like one-trick ponies while Pearson is dominating the conference.

“Everybody else I think on the list, you know how to defend him. It’s not too difficult to defend them,” said Morrison when asked what other contenders lacked. “I think he just has that all-around game where he can score from anywhere, any type of shot from any angle. There’s no definite place to stop him.”

The team will need him to be unstoppable if they want to avoid another fall in Richmond. After having quality teams fall short in the past, the team’s seniors long for the championship. It’s their last chance.

“We’ll be relying on him a whole lot. But we’re relying on the whole team,” Morrison said. “He can rely on us too, just like we’re relying on him to put up the numbers he has and carry us on in times where we need him to.”

According to coach Paul Hewitt there is only one thing that could make it a lock.

“Win the rest of the games,” Hewitt said. “The only reason why I think he’s Player of the Year is because he’s had us in first place the whole year.”

And it is hard to argue with success.