A 50-46 loss to Madison County High School in the Bull Run District semifinal served as fuel for George Mason High School’s boys basketball team’s 56-49 upset over East Rockingham High School in the Class 2 Region tournament opener Tuesday night.
“Best game of the season last night from my guys, we earned that win,” Mason head coach Chris Capannola said. “My message to the [team] was simple: East Rockingham had never made the state tournament, they carried the weight of heavy expectations and were playing at home as a favorite. We had nothing to lose and played like it.”
The relaxed nature of Mason’s (15-10) approach to the game kept their heads above water in the tense moments at the end. East Rockingham took a 47-45 lead with just over three minutes remaining, but senior guard Anish Chatterjee responded with his only bucket of the game – a tough three-pointer – to put Mason up for good. The Mustangs iced the game by going 8-for-10 from the free throw line and were able to skirt out of the Eagles gym with a victory.
“As opposed to some earlier games when we crumbled in crunch time, we were very poised and played like veterans,” Capannola continued. “Like I told the seniors, people are playing for their careers every time out at this stage. Our seniors didn’t want to end theirs just yet.”
Up until Mason’s strong finish the game was tight throughout. The Mustangs led narrowly at 16-14 early at the end of the first quarter and were down by a hair at 31-30 by halftime. An 11-0 run by Mason in the third quarter threw East Rockingham off balance and forced them to play catch up throughout most of the second half, and ultimately help the Mustangs deplete their energy down the stretch.
Junior forward Hollman Smith scored a game-high 22 points with junior Max Ashton right behind him at 19 (and without a breather, playing all 32 minutes in the game).
The loss to Madison County had a different vibe to it. After ending the first quarter tied at nine apiece and going into halftime with a slim 25-23 lead, Capannola admitted he knew it would come down to the wire. The Mountaineers came out with a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, but Mason answered right back when Chatterjee and Ashton spearheaded the Mustangs own 9-0 run.
However, with a minute left in the game Mason committed three turnovers and lost control of the game. Despite solid efforts from Ashton (21 points) and Chatterjee (15 points), the Mustangs were too reliant on jump shots and were out-performed at the free throw line, converting only seven buckets compared to Madison County’s 21.
Now Mason heads out to Woodstock for their third meeting with Central High School this season on Friday to determine who advances to the Class 2 state tournament. In both losses to the Falcons this year, the Mustangs lost by a total of five points, so a close game is to be expected.