by Matt Delaney
An overtime thriller saw George Mason’s varsity boys basketball team pull out a dramatic 57-54 win over the visiting Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School.
After blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead, sophomore guard Max Ashton forced overtime with a drive to the hoop in regulation’s final minute to knot it up at 49 apiece. Both teams scored on their opening possessions in overtime to keep the game tied, but Mason got the edge when Ashton drove the lane again for another two. Successful trips to the free throw line for Ashton and junior guard Biruk Teshome ensured the win.
“We were tested tonight and we responded like veterans,” head coach Chris Capannola said. “We’re not at the top of the mountain, but we climbed a big part of it today. This is a great win.”
As has been the case in all victories, the one-two punch of sophomores Ashton and forward Hollman Smith paved the way. Ashton took over the leading role for the night with his versatile game making an appearance at every crucial moment. Either a three-ball to end a dry spell or a game-extending drive to the hoop, Ashton was “Johnny on the spot” against the Wolves with 21 points, though he admits it wouldn’t be possible without the rest of his team.
“It’s my first year and a lot of guys’ first year on varsity,” Ashton said. “We’re all trying to find our roles. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
A back and forth game had Mason’s young squad simultaneously looking in total control while also on the verge of collapse. For minutes at a time, the Mustangs cut seamlessly through John Paul’s defense and locked the Wolves out of the paint, such as a 15-2 run to end the third quarter that gave Mason a 42-32 lead.
And for the other moments, Mason committed errors that left those in attendance scratching their heads. For instance, the 10-point fourth quarter lead where the Wolves negated Mason’s offensive rhythm while capitalizing on second chances and poorly positioned Mustangs to earn a 49-47 advantage with a minute to spare.
“We were unsure of when to go and when not to go,” Capannola added. “[But] that comes from experience. We weathered the storm and made big plays at the end.”
The Mustangs travel to Central High School on Thursday, Dec. 15 before hosting Warren County High School on Monday, Dec. 19.