Little-used Bennett lifts George Mason past Old Dominion

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Forward helps spark spurt in second half

At a time when NCAA basketball players are transferring more than ever, it's rare to have a willing reserve like Paris Bennett.

For the past four years, the 6-foot-6 forward has sat out more games than he has played for George Mason. But he never has created a stir asking for more time or considered moving on. On the occasions when the redshirt junior has gotten in games, his sunny attitude has allowed him produce.

In an ugly game at Patriot Center on Thursday night, Bennett played for just the second time in 52 days and showed no rust. He scored six key baskets in the second half, sparking sluggish George Mason to a 71-46 victory over sloppy Old Dominion.

Throughout Bennett's career, coaches Paul Hewitt and Jim Larranaga have sung his praises as a team-first player and a likely future coach.

"I can't undersell how smart a basketball player he is," Hewitt said. "Sometimes players don't appreciate how much IQ means to their play. They want to do it on athleticism and quickness, taking a guy one-on-one. But you see the whole floor the way Paris does, it makes you such a better player."

On Thursday, the play of Bennett (career-high 13 points, three rebounds), combined with that of another sometimes forgotten reserve, junior Vertrail Vaughns (seven points), allowed the Patriots to pull away. On a night when top scorer Sherrod Wright (one point, five turnovers) missed all five of his shots, Bennett and Vaughns supplied all the scoring in an 8:19 stretch of the second half during which George Mason expanded an eight-point lead to 19.

"Just energy," Bennett said when asked what he wanted to bring when he entered in the second half.

With George Mason (9-6, 2-1 CAA) struggling with the trapping 1-3-1 zone pressure of ODU (2-13, 0-4), the Patriots needed plenty of offense from its bench. Also answering the call were freshman Patrick Holloway (15 points), junior Jonathan Arledge (nine points) and sophomore Vaughn Gray (six points).

In all, George Mason's reserves outscored the starters 58-13. Even senior walk-on Bryce Lewis got into the act, scoring the first basket of his career.

"Our depth obviously saved us," Hewitt said.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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