George Mason High School’s boys basketball team narrowly escaped Essex High School in the quarterfinals of the Virginia High School League state tournament last Saturday with a 56-52 win.
Essex shortened a 15-point Mustang lead after three quarters to four points midway through the fourth quarter with help from its sophomore guard Keith Bundy. Bundy scored 17 of his 26 points in the final period.
“That was a great win. We finished the game the way we played most of it,” Coach Chris Capannola said. “That [point] cushion was the difference.”
Another deciding factor came with 36.7 seconds left in the game when Mason senior guard Noel Obusan was fouled and hit two free throws to put the Mustangs ahead 54-50. Bundy came right back down the court, scored his last two points of the game and shortened the margin to 54-52. Obusan was fouled again and hit two more free throws to put the Mustangs ahead 56-52.
“It felt real good [to hit those free throws],” Obusan said. “Since last year, we’ve been practicing and working hard to get back to this point.”
The Mustangs got out to a 17-11 lead in the first quarter and extended that lead to 34-20 in the second quarter. George Mason maintained that lead during a low-scoring third quarter by outscoring Essex 9-8. Then, in the fourth quarter, Bundy led a 11-3 run to close the Mustang lead to five points. Capannola called a timeout at that point to help the team regroup.
“It’s easy to tell the team to keep poise when you [wear] a shirt and a tie,” Capannola said. “I don’t think they got rattled like I did.”
Obusan scored 10 points, dished out three assists and grabbed three rebounds in a game where four Mustangs scored in double digits. Senior forward Dimitri Venets scored 12 points and led the Mustangs in rebounds with six boards. Senior guard/forward Philippe Griffiths scored 14 points.
Griffiths hit four of nine shots from behind the three-point line.
“An open shot is a good shot on our team,” he said.
Senior forward Nate Ogle led the Mustangs in scoring and assists with 15 points and five assists.
“We felt like we’ve been here before. It’s almost more fun when we play [that close],” Ogle said while Capannola shook his head during a post-game press conference.
Last year, the Mustangs gave up a 19-point lead to Middlesex High School in the second half of the state quarterfinals before beating them 73-56. George Mason was bounced out of the tournament in the next round when they lost 67-31 to James River High School.
“We came out in the final four and could not play any worse last year,” Capannola said. “We know anyone in the final four is going to be good so we have to focus on playing our game.”
Virginia High School and Lancaster High School play in the first state semifinal game Friday at 10:30 a.m. George Mason plays Fort Chiswell High School in the second state semifinal at 12:15 p.m.
The winners of the semifinals play in the championship game on Saturday at 5 p.m. All games will be played in the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.