Pittsburgh, PA — George Mason is a team which has set many goals for itself and has accomplished several with another one, hosting a first round Atlantic 10 Championship game now checked off the list as well.
“We’re excited about the regular season that we’ve had,” George Mason coach Nyla Milleson said. “Obviously there have been a lot of program records and firsts but we all know we’re all 0-0 when we enter conference play. It can all be shattered with poor performance. One of our goals was to be able to host a first round game so we are excited to do that. St. Bonaventure is a tough matchup for us and has quick, athletic guards that can shoot it. We’ll have to play well but I don’t know that we’ve peaked yet, by any means, but we’re certainly playing some of our best basketball right now.”
Milleson believes George Mason has not reached its peak yet because not all five starters have gone off on the same night, which is something the Patriots will strive for come Tuesday night.
It has been a special year in Fairfax, VA this season and perhaps no one better understands that than senior Tayler Dodson, who Milleson stated bought into the program when there was not much to sell and the culture was not what it was now.
“This season has been so special and something we have kind of talked about my entire four years here,” said Dodson. “To be able to be at the point where we finally have the program headed in the right direction, and we are at 22 wins, things people might not have thought we would be doing, has been great. I don’t want to reflect too much because we have much bigger goals but you appreciate everything that happens.”
EagleBank Arena already had a good culture with Doc Nix and the Green Machine Band, but now more than ever, seats have been occupied by fans who are enjoying both the season and success George Mason has had this season.
“Popping is definitely a good word to describe EagleBank Arena,” said Dodson. “It brings so much energy and it makes it so where teams play here it can become difficult. We broke the single-season attendance record and have had a tremendous fanbase that has grown every game. That added to Doc Nix and what his band bring gives us a big homecourt advantage.”
As far as St. Bonaventure is concerned, George Mason knows it is a tough matchup even though the Patriots won both meetings earlier in the season.
“They are a tough matchup because they bring five guards in and we have some true, true fives, it is a tough matchup for us in that sense,” Dodson said. “We have done our best with staying down and guarding to the best of our ability and have them try to take hard shots. If that happens again, hopefully we will be heading to Richmond.”
Additionally, Milleson added that they like to penetrate and pinch and that the matchup would be a tough one for senior center Natalie Butler.
“It is the time of year that everyone is trying to survive and play their best basketball,” said Milleson. “All you have to do is look at some of the scores Saturday in the A-10 from upsets to closer games than some maybe have thought there would be.”
George Mason also has enjoyed the ability to use its bench early and often as is the case with freshman post Camarie Gatling who has received a minutes boost or even receive a defensive push from Camden Musgrave or Marika Korpinen.
“There has been a lot of respect shown for the growth of our program,” Milleson said. “It does go off what Nat (Butler) has done for our program but those who have seen what we have done the last four years, I think there is just respect for the total growth, getting better each year, playing harder and bringing better players in.”
Ultimately when the ball tips off, not much of that matters and a lot is at stake.
“There are eight teams going to Richmond and we hope to be one of them,” said Milleson. “We’re hoping to pack our bags and be there on Sunday.”