It wasn't Paul Hewitt's grand plan to find Paris Bennett some playing time Thursday night.
It just sort of worked out that way, and not even because the redshirt junior practiced well of late. Center Erik Copes is banged up, and big man after big man stumbled into foul trouble and, well, there was Bennett checking into a frenzy of whistles early in the second half.
And more than anything besides Old Dominion's general ineptitude on defense, Bennett's insertion ensured the Patriots would finally turn a slugfest into a their most lopsided victory of the season.
Bennett scored 13 points in Mason's 71-46 rout at the Patriot Center, an unexpected source of fluid play on a night almost completely devoid of it.
"Obviously, he made a case that even when Erik's there he should be playing more," Hewitt said.
Patrick Holloway added 15 points for the Patriots (9-6, 2-1 CAA), who won by 25 for the first time since an 89-63 pummeling of Delaware last Jan. 18.
It was an atypical night in many ways for Mason, which dealt with its customary turnover issues (18 of them) and sputtered from the outside.
Even the Patriots' one constant, Sherrod Wright, managed little. Old Dominion (2-14, 0-4) was determined to keep him in check, and the junior managed just one free throw in the wake of scoring 20 points in five of his last six outings.
There was only one problem: Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor's anxiety over allocating too much attention to Wright were warranted.
"That was a good achievment on our part," Taylor said. "Then you have some other guys, like Paris Bennett. I might be wrong about this, but he goes 6-for-6 and has 13 points and I believe he scored only six points all year. That's the kind of thing that's a real thorn in your side."
Oh, Taylor's correct, all right. And it's been that sort of year for Old Dominion, which offered no semblance of an offense in its final trip to Fairfax as a member of the CAA.
The only way the Monarchs were going to stick around was if they mucked it up. And down 30-24 early in the second half, Taylor could hardly complain about where his turnover-prone team was situated.
Then Bennett came in, and the difference was soon evident for Mason. He worked himself into ideal situations and helped the Patriots uncork a 15-2 run.
"That's probably one of the better things of somebody coming off the bench," Bennett said. "You kind of get a feel for the game. You don't get thrown into the fire like the first five guys and you get a chance to correct some of the mistakes you see out there."
There were lots of them early, fewer of them late --- at least for Mason. And it offered a glimpse at a player Hewitt often hails for his versatility and savvy even if it is rarely seen in games.
Bennett logged only 54 minutes in Mason's first 14 games. He took only eight shots. And he's appeared in a game just once since Thanksgiving.
It was an unlikely star turn for a player whose previous career-best was seven points.
"He played great," Hewitt said. "He's a very smart basketball player, probably the smartest player on our team. ... He has a chance to really be one of the leaders on our team. It's best when your players kind of correct themselves instead of a coaching coming in and they hear the same voice kind of whining at them all the time. We need him to do more of that."
Hewitt will take the on-court help as well, as he did when Bennett helped the Patriots roll up 58 points from reserves. Hewitt was the first to admit the bench bailed out Mason, a refrain with the potential to become more common as the deep Patriots head deeper into league play.
It was the 12th man who came through against Old Dominion, a guy whose scoring averaged leaped 1.7 points on what was probably the best day of his career to date.
"I love it here," Bennett said. "Coach has been great. He's a really good coach. He works with us individually on and off the court. You wouldn't want to leave a guy like this."
Bennett isn't heading anywhere. Thursday, though, showed he could help take Mason where it wants to go if he's needed in a pinch --- or in a flow-deprived slugfest in need of a cerebral player.
--- Patrick Stevens