Men’s basketball team falls to Cornell in season opener

Photo gallery: Images 1-6: (Amy Rose/Fourth Estate), Images 7-14: (Amy Podraza/Fourth Estate)

Although a new year for the George Mason University Patriots men’s basketball team meant a fresh start for the young team, the problems of last season seemed to linger in their season opener against Cornell University, falling 68-60.

The new-look Patriots’ pregame plan was to establish a post presence against Cornell’s three-guard starting lineup — with only one starter measuring above six-foot-seven. This plan quickly went awry following Cornell’s remarkable efficiency from three-point range in the first half — 75% of three-pointers converted.

“Obviously we didn’t do a good job of getting the ball inside, pounding inside,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt in his post-game press conference. “I just thought we got out of character, we’ve been doing a pretty good job of pounding it inside in practice and in the game we had last week [a scrimmage against Shenandoah University]. Getting inside was not our problem until tonight.”

For a run in the first half, Mason had a lackluster stretch, going 2 for 15 from the field. The Patriots picked up momentum at the end of the first half with junior guard Patrick Holloway individually going on an 8-0 scoring run, giving Mason their first and only lead of the game at 14:28 into the first half.

Mason struggled to generate much total offense in the first half despite putting up 11 more shot attempts than Cornell, and went 11 for 33 from the field which led to Cornell taking the lead at halftime, 34-31.

Cornell got off to a 7-0 run to start the second half, and made early shots from beyond the arc that resulted in Mason trying to answer each three-pointer with one of their own.

“They started making threes, so we tried to match their threes and that didn’t work,” Holloway said. “I guess we just lost sight of, as [Coach Hewitt] was saying, what worked for us and that was throwing the ball inside. We got caught up in trying match threes with them, which was nearly impossible tonight because they made nearly everything. That’s when the lead kept going up and up, and we just kept taking bad shots.”

Due to Mason’s continued poor efficiency in the second half from the field and on three-pointers — Mason went 10 for 35 from the field and converted 3 of 16 three-point field goals — Cornell would not relinquish their lead.

Holloway was the game’s leading scorer with 22 points going 7 for 18 from the field and 4 for 11 from beyond the three-point line.

Sophomore Jalen Jenkins started off Mason’s scoring with six points, but was marred by foul trouble and was planted on the bench after two personal fouls and seven minutes played. Jenkins finished the game with 10 points.

Junior transfer Julian Royal’s debut on the Patriot Center floor surely was not what he was envisioning while sitting out the NCAA-mandated year for transfer athletes. Royal led the Patriots in field goal attempts in the first half with seven, while only converting two. He would finish the game with only one more shot attempt, which was another miss.

Cornell guard Robert Hatter and forward Shonn Miller tied for their team’s individual scoring lead each with 21 points.

Of note to Patriots fans, senior forward Erik Copes left the game around the 14-minute mark following a collision under the rim where he seemed to be wincing in pain from his left shoulder. Copes has been sidelined in season’s past from suspensions and a hip injury in his sophomore season that saw him miss seven months of action. Coach Hewitt was unsure of Copes’ status postgame but said that the last word he got was that Copes was headed off for further medical examinations.

Mason takes the court again at the Patriot Center on Sunday, Nov. 16 against Princeton University at 1 p.m.