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News Feed - February 11, 2009

The big question surrounding George Mason this season seems to be: Why can’t the Patriots win on the road? How can a team that beat James Madison by 14 at Patriot Center turn around and lose to the Dukes by two on their home court? Or knock off Old Dominion, 61-53, in Fairfax but lose to the Monarchs, 73-71, in Norfolk?

Mason isn’t getting blown out on the road. Its margin of defeat in away games is slim, an average of 3.3 points. And because the difference is so miniscule, maybe what ails the Patriots is not so much defending the three-point shot, limiting an opponent’s second-chance opportunities or grabbing more rebounds — though none of those would hurt. Maybe what it comes down to is what coaches often refer to as the “intangibles.”

“We watch our breakdowns on tape,” senior guard John Vaughan said. “It’s frustrating to know that we’re in the right areas [defensively]. If we do one more little thing correctly, then those losses turn into wins.”

When this season began, the players — from the starters to the reserves — were trying to figure out what their roles on the team would be. Who would be the go-to scorer? Who would be the spark off the bench? And, perhaps most importantly, who would be the team’s leader?

While Vaughan, having earned the respect and admiration of his teammates, has stepped into the leadership role, he is not a vocal leader. He tends to lead more by example, which befits his personality. Vaughan is not fiery, nor is he a rah-rah guy. He’s not going to challenge his teammates; he leaves that up to the coaches or the players themselves.

“I think [Coach Jim Larranaga] wants me to be that voice,” Vaughan said. “I think for the most part, as a team, we kind of know what we have to do. Guys are hard enough on themselves where I just don’t think that” he needs to be.

With none of the players eager to assume the role of vocal leader, Larranaga has. “I thought I was going to lose my voice on Friday, trying to get them to be as hungry as we were the first time around,” Larranaga said. “But as much as I barked at them on Friday, it didn’t seem to sink in that James Madison was going to be really, really sharp.”

Some players, however, respond better to a teammate than a coach. A coach can tell a player to box-out on the rebound in a late-game situation, but when a player tells his teammate the same thing, sometimes that resonates more.

“Coach wants us to react to his type of energy,” Vaughan said. “It’s not that we don’t have his energy. We just have a different way of showing it and maybe we need to show it a little more. . . . To be honest with you, I think maybe Coach is looking for a little more emotion out of us.”

When Mason made its Final Four run, Lamar Butler urged his teammates to play with passion. Last season, when the Patriots were on their way to a CAA tournament title, Folarin Campbell did the same. Perhaps all this George Mason team is missing is a player willing to challenge his teammates to play to the best of their abilities.

“We need that guy on the team, maybe it needs to be me, to get the guys going and say, ‘Look, we need to pick up our intensity. We can’t afford to let another game get away,’” Vaughan said. “When [an opposing] team seems hungry, we have to find a way to go to another level, and I think that’s what Coach L wants us to do, is find that other level to match our talent.

“We understand what we got to do. We know what we’ve got to correct. I think on Thursday you’ll see a much different defensive effort on the road.”

By Kathy Orton  |  February 11, 2009; 6:08 AM ET
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