George Mason's Copes takes center stage

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George Mason's Copes takes center stage

With frontcourt stalwarts Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison having graduated, George Mason men's basketball program has a sizable interior hole.

Wide-bodied rising sophomore Erik Copes is poised to fill it.

The highest rated college basketball prospect ever to suit up for the Fairfax program, the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Copes flashed his defensive presence credentials throughout his freshman season. Seven blocks in a single half against Drexel comes to mind.

On a team missing three starters from last season's 24-win team, on a team without a senior in the primary rotation, opportunity exists for new focal points to emerge. Outside of wing scorer Sherrod Wright, Copes tops that particular list.

"If he stays healthy, I think he has a chance to be that breakout guy," said George Mason coach Paul Hewitt, referring to both Copes' defensive-presence upside plus the concussion and hip injury that limited the Philadelphia native in stretches last season.

Copes averaged nearly two blocked shots a game despite playing only 15 minutes per contest, a number limited in part because of that upperclassman duo. Offensively, we can charitably deem Copes' skill set as raw; rarely did he score (3.3 points) on anything other than a dunk or putback, tallied only three assists and his free throw percentage was a paltry 41.9 percent.

Physically, Copes showed his conference foes he was ready to go.

"If they hadn't had the two seniors, he would have played even more minutes as a freshman," Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor said of Copes. "He was very impressive physically. He's gifted, nice strength, movement ability. They probably have their eyeballs on him as a sophomore picking up minutes as the interior presence."

No doubt coach Taylor, no doubt - that is, if Copes can stay on the court. Last season he missed six games, five straight midseason, and Mason's CAA Tournament loss against VCU.

"Last year he got off to a really good start," Hewitt said. 'He started playing his best basketball in that game against Drexel when he had seven blocked shots in the first half only to suffer a concussion in the second half and missed five games. He was not quite himself coming back from that concussion and then he when he got it going again he hurt his hip in practice before the CAA Tournament was going to begin."

Copes underwent surgery in May and "so far he's made great recovery, he's back in practice going full tilt," Hewitt said.

Those also tasked with taking on a larger role up front include junior forward Jonathan Arledge, who started twice and played 31 games last season. Redshirt junior Johnny Williams, who played 62 games over his first two seasons, returns to action with a slimmed-down look after sitting out last season with a shoulder injury. Skilled 6-foot-8 Serbian freshman Marko Gujanicic rounds out the likely heart of Hewitt's rotation.

Wright and Vertrail Vaughns are the Patriots top two leading returning scorers while fellow guards Bryon Allen and Corey Edwards direct traffic from the point. Incoming freshman and All-Met Player of the Year Patrick Holloway brings additional scoring pop.

"Everybody has holes to fill; every kid on my team is going to be in a new role," Taylor said. "But, if you look at Mason, they pretty much got things situated. They just need to fill the interior situation."

"When you lose the Player of the Year, that's significant," Hewitt said. "You don't just overlook that. But, its part of what college basketball is all about. Every year there's going to be that exciting new freshman. Fans and people who support your program are looking for that kid who is going to make that jump from his sophomore to his junior year and become a program player.

"Losing Ryan and Mike in particular is going to hurt us. At the same time, I think we've got a core of big guys more than capable of replacing them."

Erik Copes, in particular.

Jerod Evans' 4 touchdowns carry Virginia Tech past East Carolina

Jerod Evans' 4 touchdowns carry Virginia Tech past East Carolina

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- Jerod Evans said that he needed to clean up some things during Virginia Tech's upcoming off week.

The Hokies' fan base may be wondering what exactly that is. His play so far has been sparkling.

Evans, the Hokies' starting quarterback, threw three touchdown passes and rushed for one to lift Virginia Tech over East Carolina 54-17 on Saturday.

The Hokies (3-1) scored on their final five possessions of the first half, including all four of their second-quarter possessions, to overwhelm East Carolina (2-2) and snap a two-game losing streak to the Pirates.

Evans completed 13 of 20 passes for a career-best 282 yards and rushed for a career-best 97 more. He has thrown at least three touchdown passes in three of the Hokies' first four games and is completing 67 percent of his passes.

"I missed a couple of things here and there," Evans said. "I have a lot of things that I can get better at for sure."

Evans entered the game with an ACC-best 10 touchdown passes this season. Of more importance to Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente, he has thrown just one interception.

"I think he's pretty good," Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said of Evans. "He's been judicious with the ball and he's going to the right place most of the time. He's been pretty efficient."

Following a punt return for a touchdown by Greg Stroman and a touchdown run by Marshawn Williams that gave the Hokies a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Evans threw touchdown passes of 24 yards to Isaiah Ford, 13 yards to Travon McMillian and 55 yards to Cam Phillips. That final score gave the Hokies a 38-0 halftime lead.

ECU quarterback Philip Nelson had 362 yards passing and two touchdown tosses to Jimmy Williams. The Pirates had 443 yards of offense, but committed three special teams mistakes, fumbled once and were sacked six times.

"We studied the film well and they had a lot of keys when they were sliding the protection," said Ken Ekanem, who had two of the Hokies' six sacks. "We had a lot of indicators and we knew when someone was going to be left one-on-one. We look forward to one-on-one matchups and pride ourselves on winning those. We did a good job of that today."

THE TAKEAWAY

EAST CAROLINA: Coming off a 20-15 loss at South Carolina and playing its third consecutive game against a Power 5 opponent, the Pirates looked a step slow and out of sorts from the opening kick. They went three-and-out on five first-half possessions. The Pirates hope to regroup now that they have finished the non-conference portion of their schedule.

"That was clearly the best football team that we have played," ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said. "The most physical. The biggest. The fastest. The strongest. The smartest. I thought they competed well in their scheme. They played great emotional football. They leaned on their crowd. They played a complete football game -- as complete as it gets."

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies dominated on special teams, scoring three touchdowns as a result of those units. Greg Stroman scored on an 87-yard punt return, and Cam Phillips blocked a punt that led to an Evans touchdown pass to Travon McMillian. A sack of ECU punter Worth Gregory in the fourth quarter led to a 1-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Brenden Motley.

UP NEXT

EAST CAROLINA: The Pirates open AAC play next Saturday with a home game against UCF. ECU blasted the Golden Knights 44-7 last season for their first win in Orlando since 2008.

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies are off next week before taking on North Carolina on Oct. 8 and will be looking to avenge last year's 30-27 overtime loss. The Hokies have won nine of the 12 meetings with the Tar Heels since joining the ACC.

Kurt Benkert rescues Virginia against Central Michigan, 49-35

Kurt Benkert rescues Virginia against Central Michigan, 49-35

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Kurt Benkert threw five touchdown passes, the last three after Virginia had squandered all of a 28-0 lead, and the Cavaliers gave coach Bronco Mendenhall his 100th career victory, 49-35 over Central Michigan on Saturday.

Benkert hit Olamide Zaccheaus with a go-ahead 82-yard pass after the Cavaliers defense forced its first punt since the opening quarter. Virginia (1-3) forced another punt, and Benkert hit Albert Reid for a 5-yard touchdown, capping a 73-yard drive. Taquan Mizzell also scored twice for Virginia on runs of 4 and 53 yards.

"That's a happy group of young men in that locker room," Mendenhall said. "I'm certainly not saying we've arrived, but it's a nice start."

The Chippewas (3-1), seeking their first 4-0 start since 1985, scored on four of five possessions after going behind 28-0 less than 20 minutes into the game.

Cooper Rush for 402 yards and two touchdown passes to Corey Willis, including an 85-yarder, and Amari Coleman read a screen pass perfectly and scored on a 47-yard interception return.

Mendenhall, in his first year at Virginia, was 99-43 in 11 seasons at BYU before coming east.

THE TAKEAWAY

Central Michigan: The Chippewas are a confident team, and showed it even when trailing by three touchdowns in a loud stadium. They used timeouts when Virginia had the ball late in the second quarter to stop the clock, and cashed in with two touchdowns in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the half to get within 28-14.

Virginia: Rush picked apart the Virginia secondary, which lost cornerback Juan Thornhill on the first play of the game. The unit also lacks speed and played off the Central Michigan receivers for much of the day, allowing several long completions that produced third-down conversions. Kareem Gibson was a frequent target, but acquitted himself with a fourth-quarter interception to set up an insurance TD.

UP NEXT

Central Michigan: The Chippewas head into Mid-American Conference play at home against Western Michigan.

Virginia: The Cavaliers, losers of 17 in a row on the road, will try to end that skid as they open their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule at Duke.