TOWSON, Md. --- Eventually, this had to happen. George Mason relied so heavily on its defense, but how long were the Patriots going to survive a string of games in the 50s?
This was the question weighing on Paul Hewitt, the Patriots coach with some admitted stubbornness. Mason was winning; well, it was winning more than it was losing. Yet even in triumph, the Patriots offered little visually appealing and their upside consisted of the continued confluence of coinflips and rockfights.
It was hardly an ideal scenario.
So it was Bryon Allen returned to the starting lineup Wednesday and Mason matched its season-high in scoring with a 77-67 victory at Towson.
"The lineup change was made to try to facilitate more offense," Hewitt said. "Bryon's been playing really well at the wing and split his time between the wing and the point guard. Just tried it in practice two days ago full time and it looked good and I said 'Go with it,' and 77 points is a result. I think this team is more of a 70-80 [point team] than a 50-60, which we've been all year."
It wasn't simply a split-second decision for Hewitt, whose Patriots (12-7, 5-2 CAA) find themselves in sole possession of second place after dispatching the feisty Tigers (10-11, 5-3). This decision was coming, Mason's deep roster still struggling to muster points past the season's midpoint.
That wasn't a problem for Sherrod Wright, who tossed up another 24 points (his fourth straight 20-point game and 10th of the season). It was for everyone else. There is no other steady scorer, no one reliable to offer a dozen points on a regular basis.
Maybe Allen is that guy. His 16 points were one off his career-high, and he instantly made the Patriots more dynamic on the perimeter when paired with Wright and Corey Edwards.
His explosiveness is not to be confused with being an outside shooting threat. It isn't Allen's game. It wasn't his forte earlier in his career. And a guy with 13 career 3-pointers in 79 games shouldn't be counted upon to become a jump shooter. It just isn't who he is.
But the man can drive, can run in transition and can open up spacing for Wright (and potentially, as the season unfolds, Patrick Holloway) to get more open looks from outside.
"We've been working on that a little bit, sliding BA to the two and you could see in the game we got a lot of fast-break points," Wright said. "The defensive pressure was great. He can play both positions. He's been doing really well in practice and it showed up in the game."
There was a distinct connection between Mason's adventure into the 70s and the lineup tweak. The Patriots, four days removed from an ugly 57-46 defeat of Hofstra, seemed more fluid than at most junctures this season (at least when the officiating crew didn't call one of the game's 47 fouls).
Still, this felt like a leap of sorts for Hewitt. He knew his defense was good. He couldn't be sure sliding forward Anali Okoloji out of the lineup would do more to help the offense than hurt the defense.
Unknowns versus knowns. Sure things versus upside. On this night, Hewitt took a modest risk and was rewarded.
"It's what I battled with, especially coming into this game," Hewitt said. "I said to the staff on the way over 'You know, it's kind of counterintuitive to take one of our best perimeter rebounders out of the game in a game where we need to rebound the ball.' But we just said 'Let's go, let's see what happens.'"
What happened was Mason's offense came alive, with a man sent to a reserve role after the season's first eight games returning to make a difference --- and ensure the Patriots might be more effective and easier on the eyes in the closing stretch of the season.
"I've been playing the two my whole life," Allen said. "I just started playing point guard last year. I'm just trying to come in with energy and hustle."
He also offers Mason a better way to play on offense. Learning that was a fine reward for Hewitt's midseason risk.
--- Patrick Stevens