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For the first time since joining the Atlantic 10 conference, George Mason fielded a competitive team this season. The program has their best record with the new league, overall and within conference competition. Players (and the coach) are in the running for all-conference honors. Revitalizing the fan base has occurred in substantial amounts this season. One thing has remained the same, the team they will face in the Atlantic 10 tournament: Fordham.

In a twisted manner, the college basketball gods are making George Mason go through a right of passage by facing the team that has caused them anguish throughout their time in the A10. On Thursday as the No. 7 seed, George Mason will play No. 10 Fordham at 6:00 p.m. for a right to go to the conference quarterfinals.

Two of the past three seasons, the Patriots have ended their year against the Rams. Only exception was last season when Saint Louis was victorious as a No. 13 seed. Every year the Patriots did not make it to the opening ceremony of the conference tournament, losing in one of the two play-in games.

This season Mason finally got over the hump by beating Fordham on Homecoming. Taking five tries to do so in conference play (seven overall), it definitely was a relief for the Patriots to finally put the Rams away. Although the team almost blew a 15 point first half lead, the Patriots remained composed to hold on for the victory.

RELATED: MOORE STILL SEARCHING FOR HIS MASON MOMENT

In that game, four Patriots reached double figures and the team out-rebounded Fordham 44-24. Down the stretch Mason was eight for eight at the free throw line.

For the second time around, George Mason (19-12, 9-9) will have to combat the aggressive defense the Rams present. In three losses to end the season, the Rams averaged 10 steals a game, right on track with their season average. The earlier matchup between these two saw Fordham generate 14 steals and force 18 Patriot turnovers.

As a team, the Rams lead the league by a wide margin with Dayton averaging two fewer steals in each game in second. Individually sophomore, Joseph Chartouny leads the league with 3.4 steals a game. Forcing teams into other mistakes, the Rams also have forced 130 turnovers more than they have committed this season.

Chartouny is also one of four Rams that average over 10 points. Javontae Hawkins (13.7), Chris Sengfelder (12.1), and Antwoine Anderson (11.2) have evenly distributed the rock this season. When one player struggles or is the focus of a defense, one of the others step up. Seemingly the ball goes through Chartouny’s hands (5.0 assists per game), but Fordham (13-18, 7-11) is not stressing ball movement.

The one position that the Patriots have struggled to cover all season is the stretch-four. A post player that can play down low and on the wing. For Fordham that is Sengfelder.

As a 6’7″ forward, Sengfelder leads the team in 3pt baskets (71) taking over 211 shots from behind the arc on the season. In the Feb. 11 matchup, Jalen Jenkins was able to shut down Sengfelder to 5-14 from the field and 1-9 from deep. However, there was no other post player the Patriots had to worry about matching up against. Since then, the Rams have inserted 6’8″ Chuba Ohams into the lineup to provide more post play.

In a bit of a slump the Patriots have lost four of their past five games. The only win was a nail-biter against Duquesne on senior night.

Even still Marquise Moore is continuing to command the flow of the game ending the year with two straight double-doubles. He now has 18 this season with 17.4 points and 10.5 rebounds. As the focus of the team, Moore will have to lead the way with Otis Livingston II struggling to find his shot again. Livingston remains a key part of the offense though consistently dishing out assists and getting to the line.

PREVIEW OF THE TWO PLAY-IN GAMES

Jenkins (12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds) will once again be important as the only post player for Mason. Offensively and defensively he sets the team up for success.

Jaire Grayer, who at 11 points a game, has become an undervalued asset for the Patriots. Fordham has been notorious for giving up big nights behind the arc and Grayer can make them pay. Surprisingly, Grayer also leads the team in blocks with 26.

Keys for Mason in the game:
1. Dominate the boards
2. Keep Sengfelder in the paint
3. Limit unforced turnovers

The winner of this contest will move on to face No. 2 VCU (24-7, 14-4). VCU swept the Patriots this season but were upset on the road by Fordham with a dramatic buzzer beater.

Prediction: Mason 78   Fordham 66

Prediction Record: 21-10