Occasionally during George Mason’s practices, the freshmen and sophomores scrimmage against the upperclassmen. While the veterans’ experience usually wins out in these matchups, the younger players often hold their own.
“We have our days, but they win most of the time,” freshman forward Ryan Pearson said. “But we have our days sometimes.”
The day when the underclassmen regularly challenge the Patriots’ starters may not be far off. The freshmen trio of Pearson, Andre Cornelius and Mike Morrison has been solid contributors through the first month and a half of the season. Though at times plagued with the usual freshmen foibles, they have played well enough that Coach Jim Larranaga calls on them to go into the game early and often and not just in late-game blowouts.
“We work very, very hard to develop a rotation, and you have to work hard to get yourself into that rotation,” Larranaga said. “Our three freshmen . . . are in that rotation.”
Pearson, a 6-foot-6 forward out of Christ the King in New York, is a scrappy, energetic player. He already has earned Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the week honors twice. Pearson averages 7.4 points and is the team’s second-leading rebounder with 4.7 per game.
Cornelius, a 5-10 point guard out of Charlotte, N.C., has a dynamic, creative flair. At times, his tendency to be a little too fancy can cost him: Cornelius has nearly as many turnovers (22) as assists (26). He shoots the ball well, making more than 35 percent of his shots from three-point range to average 7.3 points per game.
Morrison, a 6-9 forward from St. Petersburg, Fla., is disruptive with his length. The wiry big man plays the fewest minutes of the freshmen, averaging less than eight minutes a game. But he’s been making the most of his time on the court. He sinks more than 65 percent of his shots to average 3.7 points per game.
“Today in college basketball, a lot of schools expect freshmen to contribute immediately,” senior guard John Vaughan said. “These guys knew coming in that we were going to need their help. The seniors and the upperclassmen also knew that we were going to have to guide them along faster than a typical freshman. They’ve just done a great job coming in, bringing energy, playing their roles to the fullest.
“We believe in them. The coaching staff believes in them, but most importantly, they believe in themselves.”
In Mason’s 101-60 win against UNC Wilmington on Saturday night, the three freshmen were the main reason the Patriots’ reserves outscored the Seahawks bench players, 49-13. Pearson had 13 points and seven rebounds, Morrison had 13 points and a block, and Cornelius had 10 points and four assists.
“As the season progresses, I feel more comfortable each and every day with practice and all the games,” Pearson said. “I may have ups and downs, and the freshmen class, we may have our ups and downs, but we just try to keep our heads up. We just keep playing. As we go along, we feel more comfortable.”
Larranaga, though pleased with how well the freshmen are playing, would like to see more consistency from the group. He noted that in Mason’s 66-62 loss to Dayton that the three contributed a total of five points.
“Being a freshman oftentimes means a little inexperience, not understanding the mental side of it,” he said. “You can get up for one [game], but what are you doing to do the next time out? . . . You don’t tie up your laces one time. You’ve got to do it night after night after night.”
January 5, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
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