Vertrail Vaughns returned to the court after being redshirted last season due to an injury. Photo By Stephen Kline

Shortly after entering the game in the first half of Wednesday’s win over Bowie State, redshirt freshman forward Paris Bennett scored the first two points of his college career on an assist from senior guard Cam Long.

It was a moment that Bennett has, for nearly a year, worked hard to be a part of. This crucial moment would foreshadow his impact on the Patriots’ victory.

“It felt good. I was real nervous this whole week,” Bennett said. “I got a chance at an easy basket right away and that kind of opened things up for me.”

Last year, Bennett received a redshirt after breaking his wrist just four games into his freshman season. The injury sidelined the former three-star recruit for the remainder of the season and placed him in a role he was unfamiliar with.

“It was tough being out,” said Bennett. “But my role was to help get our team together on and off the floor. I was a different kind of sixth man last season.”

On Wednesday night, Bennett took the floor in front of George Mason University students and fans for the first time since his injury and came up huge for coach Jim Larranaga and the team.

Following his first score almost immediately after checking into the game, Bennett connected on three of his next four attempts for a steady nine-point performance. He snagged seven rebounds for the Patriots and was a factor on both ends of the floor.

The effort he gave against Bowie State is what Larranaga expects to see more often this season.

“Last year, [Bennett] was trying too hard to score the ball,” Larranaga said. “But he has really relaxed. And he has really calmed down a lot this year.”

Fellow redshirt freshman Vertrail Vaughns was another player whose freshman season was cut short due to injury. Vaughns injured his wrist and spent the entire previous season off the floor but working out.

Vaughns stepped onto the floor Wednesday night in front of Mason fans for the first time in his college career.

Like Bennett, he also played an excellent game. Turning it on late in the game, Vaughns knocked down five of his seven shot attempts, finishing with 11 points in just 13 minutes.

“I wasn’t out there the whole time last year. I was eager to get back on the court,” Vaughns said. “It was a great experience being out there with the team again.”

If Wednesday night’s victory over visiting Bowie State is any accurate prediction, Mason’s two redshirt freshmen will play a key role in the team’s success this season.

“They went through a preseason,” Larranaga said. “They’ve been through the ups and downs of a freshman year. It just got cut short. I’m expecting this part of their freshman year to be more like a sophomore season.”

Bennett, Vaughns and the rest of the Patriots will be in action at the Patriot Center at 4 p.m. on Saturday against Harvard University in a game that Larranaga calls “a matchup of the oldest school in the nation against the best team in the nation.”