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George Mason Basketball

George Mason Basketball: February 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Going out in style

It was senior night, Folarin Campbell's 22nd birthday, Will Thomas broke the record for games started and a victory that earned the Patriots a first round bye in the CAA tournament and sole possession of second place in the standings. All around a pretty good night, capped off with an emphatic dunk by Campbell in the closing seconds. It was a typical home win for the Patriots, a close first half then an explosion of energy and three point shooting in the second, ending with four players in double figures. Basically the exact opposite of how Mason plays on the road. Campbell and Vaughan finished with 17 and 15 respectively and Big Willie Style added 10 with 8 rebounds. David Schneider of the Tribe almost spoiled senior night with his three point shooting but Mason was able to counter by getting to the free throw line all night. Campbell drove to the lane at will all night for the Patriots to have success in the CAA tourney, especially if Will Thomas is not having a huge night. It was great to see Cam Long add 12 points, he's basically been our entire bench production lately. Dre Smith came off the bench again and was held scoreless; that's a nice way of putting it. End of the season and Dre is posting goose eggs on the box score? That 10 for 10 NCAA record shooting display is really starting to seem like a distant memory isn't it? That being said I am still happy as long as two out of Long, Vaughan, and Smith trio are doing well.

After the way things have gone this season, second place in the standings doesn't seem so bad right now. That first round bye will do wonders for Mason, who typically plays poorly against the bottom feeders of the CAA. Having to play one less game against teams like that will help the Patriots if you ask me. And look the NY Times says "Mason is calmer now", which I think is funny because to most Mason die hards it's the exact opposite right now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ode to the Seniors

What a run these seniors have given us. With all that has gone on this season, they have still given us memories and accomplishments that might never be matched again. Mason could win a national championship ten years from now but no one will ever forget the improbable Final Four appearance in 2006. As Will Thomas, Folarin Campbell, and Jordan Carter play their final home game tonight (barring any NIT home game action) I think I won't be the only one who is not quite ready to see these guys go. And that is why I am not holding my head in my hands after some the team's recent losses. Last year Mason came out of the 5th seed to reach the CAA finals and this year we are in a much better position to do that again. You can read about how the Patriots aren't an at-large team anymore here and here but it's dumb to get lost in all that conversation with regular season games still left to play. This team controls it's own destiny and the more I think about the more confident I am in seeing this team run the table in Richmond. Seniors Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell have carried this team on their backs and I would not be surprised to see a similar performance in Richmond next weekend. Campbell has been playing his best basketball this season lately and Will Thomas has been a rock in the middle all year, these guys have what it takes to get it done, the real question remains is whether or not the supporting cast will be up to par. Tonight's game against W&M should really be a test to see if this team is focused and not rattled by their most recent road meltdown. They need to look past last weekend and focus on winning the CAA auto-bid. At the beginning of the season I admit I did not think we have to worry about the CAA tourney but it is what it is now.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


The George Mason Patriots dropped an important non-conference road game yesterday after holding a 13 point lead at the half. Sound familiar? The woes on the road this season have been the dagger that killed Mason's at-large hopes. Some say this was the final blow to their resume but I say it happened a while ago. Not only did the Patriots blow a double digit halftime lead they also allowed 50 points in the second from the Bobcats after they only managed 19 in the first. After a smothering defensive effort and shooting over 60% in the first half the Patriots came out flat missing their first 5 shots to the start the second in which they shot below 30%. What happened to the squad we saw earlier in the season where 5 players would finish in double figures? Lately it's been Will Thomas, Folarin Campbell and nothing else. The bench yesterday mustered only 6 points and all those came from Cam Long. Give Ohio credit for taking Will Thomas out of the game in the second half, their second defensive performance was some of the best I think Mason has gone against this season. Speaking of Ohio's second half dominance, Bubba Walther's shooting from behind the arch reminded me of when Lee Humphrey had his shooting assault against the Patriots in the 2006 NCAA tournament. The Bobcats came out in the second half with too much energy for the Patriots to match. But why does this keep happening? You would think Larranaga would have expected the Bobcats to come out strong and cut into Mason's lead. We have seen this happen in almost EVERY road game this season and frankly it gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Larranaga earns no. 400

All you could hear was the chanting of "Larr-a-nag-a" through out the arena Wednesday night as the old coach notched his 400th win. And earned this on the same night as undefeated Memphis head coach John Calipari I might add. It was a less dramatic win with maybe only 4,000 or so fans witnessing it but it was an impressive defensive and rebounding night for the Patriots. Mason out rebounded the Blue Hens 37-29, an area that has been a problem all season. Will Thomas scored 18 of his 24 in the second half. Wow we really could have used a second half like that from him when we previously played these guys on the road. Folarin Campbell continued his impressive play scoring 19 and Louis Birdsong finally grabbed a couple rebounds instead of fouls. The offense was less than stellar but they did not rely on the three-point shot (1 for 9) which was a nice change. To be successful in the CAA tournament I think they have to have an offensive design like what we saw last night, a steady diet of Will in the low post and Folarin driving to the lane. These guys can't rely on Dre Smith and John Vaughan to light it up from behind the arc, because lately they haven't. And on the other hand the team can't rely solely on Will and Folarin shouldering the load on offense for a full 40 minutes. Sure it's happened a lot this season but you can't expect it happen for the duration of the tournament. Depth will be important in Richmond and Mason won't have much success if their bench only produces 4 points.

Side note: Chat with John Vaughan today at 12:30 pm over at


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fight til the end

Lost in the homecoming letdown and Bracketbuster game looming this weekend is the fact that the Patriots host Delaware tonight. Mason will try to secure a first round bye in the CAA tournament by staying in the top four of the conference standings. No easy task for these Patriots as they have endured an up and down season to say the least. The one constant on the year being that forward Will Thomas is hands down the conference Player of the Year, I don't care if Agudio drops 40 points in every last game remaining. Thomas, by the way is 8th in the nation in field-goal percentage and 14th in rebounding. The Patriots are currently tied with UNCW for second place but they have the tie-breaker over us. ODU and William & Mary are still just a game behind just waiting to cause us fans more grief.

Delaware, if you remember came back against the Patriots at home in overtime after being down 19. Alas the Patriots have beaten the Blue Hens five consecutive times in Fairfax to date, but then again wasn't their current home record against UNCW similar? I am no longer worried about jinxing this team, they seem to find new ways to do that every week. This Delaware game tonight though does give the Patriots a chance to bounce back in a revenge setting and in front of a home crowd which they have played their best basketball all season.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Heart break at Homecoming

Homecoming seemed to be going great, drinking was allowed back in the parking lots for tailgating, everyone and their mother was there sporting their Mason pride. Then TJ Carter just had to sink that lay-up at the buzzer to end the game and hopes of a sold out Mason crowd who now are rooting for a third place team. I just knew TJ Carter and Chad Tomko would have big games. I can't believe Tomko is a freshman, kid was on fire. Our first home loss of the season and it had to come on homecoming, although with the amount of alcohol flowing I think some people are only realizing it this afternoon. It was a let down to say the least, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell were on top of their games and even Jordan Carter who I recently just blasted sank three treys to keep Mason in the game late. The Patriots left a lot of points on the free throw line, shocking I know. But what was actually shocking in this game was when Larranaga put in the "green team" early in the first half. I have never seen Isiah Tate in the game so early. The score was 9-2 with the Patriots on top, so why change things? Coach L has done this before and I never understood it, your starters are just starting a run and you cut that short? No lead has been safe to the Patriots this year, why jeopardize that in an important game? UNCW played incredible at certain points yesterday, they seemed so unfazed by the large Mason crowd and kept making shots when it counted. My hat goes off to them, but Mason had their changes and blew it. Not the loss you want to take with the CAA tournament just around the corner. At-large talk is out the window so that tournament in Richmond is really my only focus right now for this team. Believe it or not first place is still not out of the question with ODU beating VCU on the road yesterday.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shooter's Role

Mason continued it's streak of not losing back to back games this season with a road win over Towson last night. After the disappointing loss to ODU last week it's hard to get really excited about this but I will say this, Mason put on another shooting clinic last night from three-point land. Mason used the power of the three to secure sole possession of 2nd place in the CAA standings and made Saturday's homecoming match-up a little big more interesting. The Patriots sank 12 three-pointers and in the first half had a run of 7 in a row where we saw Vlad the Impaler even knock one down; that felt good to watch. What didn't feel good to watch was the free-throw shooting which percentage-wise was lower than our three-point shooting, are you kidding me? Dre Smith started off slow as usual but ended up with 5 treys and 18 points. Welcome back Dre, we missed you. I would also like to welcome back John Vaughan who showed us last week in Norfolk how much better of a team we are without him. With JV back to full strength he continued on his season long tear scoring 19 and driving to the lane at will. Big Willie Style could have had an even bigger night (17 and 10), I mean who was guarding him? Folarin Campbell looked like he was on his way to another 20+ night but his services weren't needed much in the 2nd half, which for once did not doom Mason on the road. Campbell did have an impressive night in other areas besides his shooting touch as he grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 6 assists. I know most of you that read this are not huge Jordan Carter fans and I think I am finally on your bandwagon because he is flat out sucking big time. He does not seem to be hurt at all any more and with guys like Cam Long on the bench Carter is becoming the odd man out in the guard rotation; that's a good thing. Louis Birdsong picked up more rebounds than fouls for a change but can't resist the urge to try to reject every shot no many how out of position he is. Give it time Louis give it time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Well at least they are on TV again...

Today it was announced that Mason's Bracketbuster game against Ohio will be played at 1 p.m. on ESPN2. It will be the fifth time this season that the Patriots will broadcast on ESPN2. Some would say this game is meaningless after the ODU loss on Saturday but I think it's still a game that will help prepare the team for that increasingly more important CAA tournament at the season's end. If we witness another road performance like we saw in Norfolk that will definitely tell us what kind of tournament we are gonna have in Richmond. Veterans like Folarin, Big Will, and Carter need to step up and right the ship for these remaining road games because at this point in the season the old ball coach has done all he can.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Road Dogs

Mason basketball suffered another disappointing road loss most likely ending all the at large bid talk for the time being. Oh and by the way John Vaughan's knee is messed up again, that's right, the one he had surgery on two years ago. What was most disappointing about this loss to ODU was the fact that Folarin Campbell probably had one of his best performances since 2006, scoring a career-high 28. Campbell and Thomas seemed to be the only players that showed yesterday. Cam Long played 30 minutes and only mustered 3 points shooting 1 for 8 from the field. John Vaughan did not look himself at all and later we learned that he injured his bad knee late in the Drexel game. Dre Smith's wild shot selection continued and Jordan Carter was again a non-factor. Rebounding and defense was really the difference in the game as the Monarchs first half was basically a shooting clinic. I never seen a team get such easy shots over and over again. The rebounding numbers appear even on the score sheet but ODU was able to get offensive at will when it counted. Will Thomas IS rebounding for the Patriots, as no other forward seems to know how to box out.

There have been two Mason teams this season, the well oiled machine we see dominate at the Patriot Center and then the team we saw play yesterday in Norfolk. Why does Mason play so different on the road? Every team has occasion struggles on the road but for the Patriots it's almost like they forget how to play together. Some of the blame needs to fall on the coach because it has been a problem all season long. I really don't know what else to say, I thought Mason was past these struggles.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Patriots sweep Dragons

Coach Larranaga was not able to end his losing streak at UNCW this season but he did end his five year drought at Drexel. Mason has now won seven of their last eight games and are still currently breathing down VCU's neck for first place. Watch highlights of the game here, courtesy of ESPN 8 "The Ocho". Not to say Mason didn't have their usual struggles on the road, late in the game with less then six minutes remaining they found themselves in a tie ball game against a team they beat by 47 in November. Folarin Campbell, who has been on a tear lately, spurred a nine-point surge that ultimately led the Patriots to victory. I don't want to jinx it but I think it's time I officially let Folarin out of the doghouse. I had been unhappy with his wild inconsistency and disappearing acts in early games this season but he has been coming up huge at a point in the season where the team needs him most. Last night he dropped 25 on the Dragons, equaling his career high. Pair that with Will Thomas' 17 and 12 effort and you will find it difficult for any CAA to beat these guys. I don't have the official numbers but I found it hard to believe that Mason loses when Campbell hits 20 or more and Thomas earns a double-double.

John Vaughan did not start, as expected, but entered the game at the first timeout and kept his double digit scoring streak alive which is currently at 15 games. This is tops in the CAA. An serious injury to a consistent guy like Vaughan would be devastating at this point in the season so it's a sigh of relief to see that he is fine. Cam Long started in JV's place and added two three-pointers, he and Campbell were the only ones to hit from behind the arch. Speaking of three-pointers, why did the Patriots only attempt 11 from there? Hasn't the three-point shot been their bread and butter this year? Dre Smith has continued to be a non-factor since his record-setting night at JMU, but luckily for the Patriots they have not needed his heroics lately. Just knowing Dre can light up at any moment is good enough for me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

On to Drexel

The Patriots travel to Philly tonight to face the Drexel Dragons and are looking to continue their dominate play in the conference. Rumor has it John Vaughan got a little nicked up in practice and had his arm in a sling earlier this week. Recently he was at practice without it and expects to play tonight but not start (due to team rules, no practice no start). I would expect Cam Long to possibly enter the starting lineup tonight and see increased minutes, something I think we all enjoy seeing. Last time Drexel and Mason played it got ugly real fast for the Dragons and I can expect nothing less this time around especially with the Dragons not playing any better currently then they did back in November in Fairfax. An interesting thing to watch for in this game is to see if Folarin can continue his impressive offensive play of late. He has been one of the main reasons for the Patriots winning 6 of their last 7. The game is on ESPNU tonight, so it's in the national spotlight (sort of) but if don't get ESPNU, Drexel is streaming the game live here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Mason paired with Ohio in Bracketbuster event

The ESPN Bracketbuster match-ups were announced today and the Patriots will travel to Ohio University on February 23rd with a chance to add a quality road win to their resume. The tv schedule has not been announced yet but the Mason game will most likely be on ESPNU. Here is a head to head breakdown of the two teams and you can notice that the Patriots have the edge in every category except one. Ohio posts similar ranking numbers as the Patriots with an RPI currently at 51 and a SOS rank of 123. This event almost single handedly got Mason into the 2006 NCAA tournament with an impressive road win against Wichita State, can this year's game have similar results?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Patriots take down JMU in front of record crowd

Coach Larranaga earned his 200th victory with Mason in front of the biggest crowd in school history. The Patriots remain undefeated at home and have now won 6 of their last 7 games. Mason had control over James Madison for the entire game with great offensive efforts from Folarin Campbell (20 points) and John Vaughan (19). Campbell has started to become a constant threat for Mason on offense, which I think is something we fans have been waiting for all season. More importantly he was 3 for 3 from the three point line, a shame Dre Smith can't seem to find his touch from there lately. Jordan Carter played 20 minutes today and looked good despite only scoring 2 points. Carter didn't have any turnovers but the rest of the team committed 16, kind of a lot considering their margin of victory. Mason was able to take control early without Will Thomas dominating which shows that the play from the guards was impressive. Larranaga went to his bench early and often to get his freshmen and bench players more experience. Despite some of the team's early struggles with consistency, they are playing great now with the regular season end in sight that's when you want to be hot. Being on a role heading into the CAA tournament will make all the difference in the world.

Friday, February 01, 2008

What's up with Carter?

At first I thought Carter was just limited to playing time due to an ankle injury but seems like now there is more to the situation. The easy answer is you can't rush a guy back from injury, especially when his counterparts are playing well at his position. But lately his demeanor on the bench during games and frequent short outings on the court make me wonder if Carter is getting frustrated by guys like Cam Long and Folarin Campbell excelling in his absence. Last year Carter was THE ball handler for the Patriots and despite some questionable passes in zone coverage, he was solid at the position. Last season in the CAA tournament finals his injury forced Gabe Norwood to bring the ball up court and we all know how that ended. Why was he so valuable last season and not this year? Credit Campbell and Long for protecting the ball and using their height (6'4" each) to make excellent passes. To be honest I never saw Carter as a guy you want out there for more than 25 minutes a game, he's a valuable bench guy and very unselfish. Sometimes a little too unselfish, passing up wide open looks too often. Not exactly the kind of player you want out there when the game is on the line and the clock is ticking. Being that it is his senior year I can understand the frustration of not playing as frequent as you would like but hopefully this matter won't effect team chemistry.

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