George Mason High School’s boys basketball team was on the winning end of an 82-79 overtime cinematic against Washington-Lee High School on Dec. 20.
This game had a little bit of everything. Wild momentum swings, big shots in big moments and, at least for Mason (4-2) and its fans, an ideal ending to what Mason head coach Chris Capannola remarked was a signature win for this group.
The Mustangs held what was now the final score with 17 seconds remaining and only needing a stop to clinch the win. They faced an identical situation at the end of regulation — when Washington-Lee had only ten seconds to work with — and were caught in a down screen, opening up a corner three for the Generals to push it into overtime. With Washington-Lee’s best shooter having fouled out earlier in the extra period, Mason promptly adjusted and didn’t repeat the mistake.
“We were more conscious, we talked on the screens and got through them. [Senior guard] Jay [Nesson] had a great closeout on the three and forcing the drive and for them to make a bad pass,” senior forward Hollman Smith said.
It was the kind of Hollywood ending the home team could only like more if the stage were bigger in, say, February or March, but such a satisfying finale seemed unlikely early on.
Washington-Lee was the aggressor to start the game, and despite Mason’s urgency at working inside against the Generals’ size, it seemed the 6A opponent had a diverse enough game keep the Mustangs off-balance.
That changed when sophomore guard Deven Martino’s drive and kick to senior guard Max Ashton for a trey capped off a slow first quarter for Mason to put them within four at 15-11 and demonstrated some of the Mustangs’ grit. Sophomore guard Robert Asel’s corner three gave Mason its first lead of the game at 23-22, but the Generals’ 8-3 run quickly put the Mustangs in the hole again. After Asel hit another three to pull within one, Mason turned it over in their backcourt and allowed a layup to enter the half down 32-29.
With Mason nipping at Washington-Lee’s heels throughout the third quarter, the Generals always answered the Mustangs’ blows with one of their own. Tied at 44 apiece, a three-point play off an offensive rebound and a drive and score put Washington-Lee back up five. It wasn’t until a Martino drive, Ashton connecting with Smith to finish a fastbreak and Ashton splitting from the free throw line, that Mason had its first lead since the second quarter at 50-49.
The Mustangs seemed in command throughout the fourth quarter, but a few errors kept the Generals within arm’s reach and allowed Washington-Lee to hit the three to extend the game. Martino got a bucket to go and converted the and-1 opportunity to go up 72-69 in overtime, however momentum shifted yet again when Washington-Lee put a 9-5 run together to go up 78-77 with 53 seconds to play. Ashton nailed a corner three on a feed from Martino with 35 seconds to play that cemented Mason’s chances of winning and re-established the team’s killer instinct after Dec. 14’s funky loss to Manassas Park High School.
“Last week we had four great practices leading up [Manassas Park], and yesterday we had our worst practice of the year. I sent everyone home after an hour,” Capannola said. “But I had no doubt we were going to come out and play. The guts and teamwork they showed was out of this world.”
Mason will play Centreville High School in the first round of the Joe Cascio Holiday Classic at Falls Church High School tomorrow afternoon.