One ill-fated possession spelled the end of George Mason High School boys basketball team’s season as they fell to Bull Run District rival Central High School, 45-43, in the Region 2B semifinal on last Friday.
A steal and an and-one by senior guard Anish Chatterjee put Mason (15-12) ahead 43-38 with 2:50 remaining. However, the Mustangs wouldn’t score again. An iffy basket interference call brought Central within three, and after junior guard Connor Fletchall missed both his shots at the line the Falcons knotted the game up with a three-pointer. During Mason’s last gasp to break the tie, Chatterjee held the ball near mid-court and was scanning for a look, but lost control of the ball while he swung his arms up to re-adjust.
“We inexplicably turned the ball over on the flukiest situation I have seen in my 30 years of coaching,” Mason head coach Chris Capannola said. “I was calling timeout at that exact second, but it was too late. I feel awful for [Chatterjee], he’s been a warrior all season for us, it was just a terrible stroke of luck.”
With 25 seconds remaining on the next possession, Central sunk a baseline 12-footer at the buzzer to clinch their state title berth.
Mason had held strong throughout the game up until those final moments. They led 13-7 after the first quarter and were up 23-18 going into halftime after junior forward Hollman Smith hit a three before the horn sounded. Both teams were hot in the third quarter, with the Mustangs barely edging out Central at 35-34 after being outscored in the period 16-12.
Chatterjee and junior guard Max Ashton led the team with 13 points each, and Smith was right behind them with 10.
Last Friday’s loss also completed Central’s season sweep of Mason, defeating the Mustangs in all three of their meetings this year by a combined seven points.
“Hats off to Central, they have 24 wins total and beat us three times — that’s not luck,” Capannola continued. “These underclassmen will be ready for Central next year. They are self-driven as it is, but the memory of falling one bucket short of a state berth, losing a third time to a district rival, should fuel them all off season.”
The Mustangs record may be appear middling, but it’s more telling when you look at the opponents they faced in the early stretch.
Notable losses came to teams such as Potomac Falls High School, Annandale High School, Chantilly High School and Washington-Lee High School, who qualified for the Region 5C, Region 6C and Region 6D tournaments, respectively (Chantilly and W-L both made the Region 6D tournament).
Individual players also received recognition.
Ashton made All Region 1st team and Chatterjee made 2nd team, while both Ashton and Chatterjee were All District 1st team and Smith made 2nd team. Even unsung heroes served as glue guys, such as team captain and senior guard Nicholas Robbin-Coker, who kept the team on track throughout season. Robbin-Coker and others will be missed, but Mason returns a good core next year as well.
“Our seniors are all outstanding young men, they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished over their careers,” Capannola added. “We bring back eight guys, all hoops junkies, and that’s something you can’t teach or force.”