All season long, third-quarter struggles have proven to be the biggest demon for the George Mason High School varsity boys’ basketball team. Turns out, the fourth quarter can be just as nightmarish.
Looking to secure their first three-game win streak since Feb. 2008, the Mustangs (6-8) instead succumbed to a lackadaisical final eight minutes, squandering a nine-point comeback to lose at home to Freedom South-Riding High School (3-11) in their final non-district contest, 59-46.
Down 26-17 late in the second quarter, Mason roared back to take a 37-36 lead midway through the third period. After a 6-0 Freedom run in the first 1:10 of the fourth quarter, the Eagles garnered the lead necessary to hold off the stagnant Mustangs.
“Quite honestly I’m questioning how we can come out and play a game like this before district play,” Mason Coach Chris Capannola said. “We come out and just threw up a total clunker in our last chance to get it right. It’s a terrible way to enter the district season, it couldn’t have been worse.”
Despite 15 second-half points from freshman point guard Aaron Young, who only played sparingly early on due to foul trouble, Mason was unable to light a fire under its offense, just days removed from a 70-point performance. Their 0-for-5 slate from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and 28.6 percent first-half field goal percentage didn’t help.
“We can settle for Aaron being a jump shooter, but the other guys weren’t getting to the line, settling for contested 15- and 18-foot shots,” Capannola said. “We said that you have to go to the rim and get the clock stopped, but everyone doing their own thing leads to anarchy and then outcomes like this.”
Senior center Jordan Cheney found the looks he needed in the post early on but was unable to convert as the game wore on, finishing with eight points, all of which came in the first half.
Young ended with 18, including four three pointers, while junior Brandon Alexander tallied seven. All together, the Mustangs shot just 44 percent from the free-throw line while the Eagles nailed 65 percent.
The loss to the Eagles came on the heels of Mason’s first 70-point game since Dec. 20, 2007, a 73-62 win last Friday over Avalon School. The Mustangs rebounded from a three-game losing streak thanks to a 12-2 run over the final three minutes of play, withstanding a late charge by the Knights and successfully avoiding a third-quarter collapse.
Young finished with a team-high 17 points, including six in the final minute. Seven of Capannola’s players tallied at least seven points, as the Mustangs shot 74 percent from the charity stripe.
Last Wednesday, the Mustangs scored a victory in their Bull Run District-opener at Manassas Park. Similar events as the Avalon unfolded, with Mason ceding a nine-point halftime lead to edge out the 64-60 victory. The Cougars led by seven midway through the fourth quarter, though two dagger three-pointers by Young helped the Mustangs open up district play on a winning note.
Versus the Cougars, Cheney finished with 19 points, 12 boards and four blocks, while Young added 18. Sophomore Jeremy Stewart, who tacked on 10, combined with Cheney and Young to score all 20 of Mason’s fourth-quarter buckets.
Given its third-quarter issues against Avalon and Manassas, it was ironically the fourth quarter that gave Mason the most trouble against Freedom, issues it now must figure out before Friday’s date with defending Region B champions Madison County, undefeated and ranked first in VirginiaPreps.com’s latest AP poll.
“We have to find a way to compete for four quarters,” Capannola said. “It only takes a couple possessions where we don’t know what’s happening on either end and the game gets away from you. We have no chance for error on Friday.”