BY MICHAEL ABLER
A year after their disastrous 2015-16 season, the Mason Men’s Basketball Team managed to pull off an amazing turnaround. After 11 wins and 21 losses last season, the Patriots came back strong with a 20-win season, losing only 14 games and earning a spot in the College Basketball Invitational.
In the first game of the invitational, Mason fell to Loyola 73-58 in front of a home crowd at EagleBank Arena Wednesday March 15. Despite a painful end to their season, the Patriots have a lot to be optimistic about going into the 2017-18 season after their best season since 2012-13.
This was Mason’s 13th time finishing a season with 20 wins. Head Coach Dave Paulsen felt that the team “made great progress, winning nine more games than last year and going an even .500 in the A-10 Conference.” On top of that, Paulsen said you could “sense the team becoming more focused at halftime against Kent State, and we managed to carry that out the rest of the way during the streak, as well as the season.”
Even though there are a few key players graduating from Mason, including senior guard Marquise Moore, Mason still has plenty of talent to help the team reach the next level. The team has three starters returning next season, including freshman Justin Kier and sophomores Otis Livingston II and Jaire Grayer.
Moore had a stellar season, recording the first triple double in Mason history against Penn State and pulling down the most rebounds (349) in Mason basketball history.
According to Moore, the key to his success this season was “being healthy as a player and not getting hurt as much as I had before. I worked hard in the offseason and it paid off.” Moore added, “This was a very rewarding season. It would’ve been nice if we had gone further than we did, but I’m still very proud of what we’ve done this year and the fact that I’ve stuck with this team throughout my four years here.”
Mason also has a few major recruits coming in next season. The two headliners are forward Goanar Mar from De La Salle High School, who was one of five finalists for the Mr. Basketball award in Minnesota, and guard Javon Greene out of Henry County High School, who was on the All-state Georgia Basketball roster.
The Patriots started off the season winning only one of their first four games, and disappointment seemed to be on the horizon for the Patriots yet again. After losing to the University of Houston, Mason came on incredibly strong, winning 10 of their next 13 games during the year, including an impressive nine-game winning streak.
That streak got them through most of the first half of the regular season. The streak started against Kent State and was what Paulsen called the “turning point of the year.”
The streak included wins over rival school James Madison University 80-77 and a win over a struggling Penn State by a score of 85-66.
Mason also had big wins over A-10 opponents like Richmond, beating them 82-77 on the road and 93-70 at home. The Patriots also defeated Northern Iowa—for only the second time in Northern Iowa’s history—back in November at home.
Another big win for Mason was knocking off Fordham in game one of the A10 tournament in overtime after rallying from a seven-point deficit in the final 37 seconds of the game. Beating Fordham in the A-10 Tournament “had never happened before,” Paulsen said. “We made it to the quarterfinals and we managed to beat them in overtime by 11 points.”
Even though they had a great season this year, Paulsen and his team aren’t settling down anytime soon. There are things the team can improve upon; for example, Paulsen said, “We went 8-2 against poor teams and lost eight out of 10 games against strong teams,” so the Patriots “need to get better next year in order to get into that upper echelon of college teams. We jumped up a lot in the ranks, but we need to play better next year so we can build off of this season.”
Moore shared similar sentiments, saying that, “I feel like we could’ve gone further this year, but at the same time, I’m very happy with how far we managed to go this year.” The Patriots will await the 2017-18 season with a hunger to prove themselves, with appropriately higher hopes.