Some last minute magic made premonitions of a blown lead vanish for George Mason High School’s boys basketball team in its 54-53 win over James Monroe on Tuesday night.
What was a 12-point advantage for the Mustangs dissolved into a 51-46 deficit with 1:45 to play. The Yellow Jackets trailed since the first quarter, but overtook a shrinking Mason squad in the final three minutes by sticking the knife in and twisting it from the free throw line.
Though the Mustangs had one final (if impromptu) act up their sleeve — junior guard Bobby Asel absorbing a double-team with seven seconds to go and finding fellow junior guard Deven Martino alone underneath the basket for the winning layup. The bucket capped off a miraculous 8-2 run in the closing 45 seconds and allowed Mason to take a bow (and a breath).
“We got it to the guy I wanted,” Mason head coach Michael Gilroy said. “We were going to fake to [junior guard] Ryan [Fletchall], use a back screen from [sophomore forward] Ben [Yimaj] on the lob and Bobby was gonna pop and get it. I wanted it to go to my best bulldog, and then he ended up passing for the first time all game.”
An Asel-to-Martino connection erased an outcome that was hurtling its way toward embarrassment. Mason led 35-23 early in the third quarter following some slick passing from Fletchall to Asel to Martino for a smooth drive to the hole. But Monroe rallied from that point and mounted a 28-11 run to officially put the Mustangs on alert.
The visiting Yellow Jackets rediscovered their early game stroke with some shots beyond the arc and mixed it in with inside pick-and-roll action. Mason’s defense had suddenly gotten weak-kneed, and the energy that had caused Monroe to commit unforced errors all of throughout the first half was not there.
The Mustangs’ offense geared down just as its defense did. Martino was able to stem the Yellow Jackets’ comeback with a coast-to-coast layup to stay ahead 44-41, and senior forward Hunter Broxson’s second chance layup kept Monroe at arm’s length a little longer at 46-43. But eventually, three clunky Mason possessions were countered by a straightaway three and five free throws in two trips from the visitors before the Mustangs snapped back into form.
“It was most important that our coach told us, when we were down five, that we looked like we had lost the game and reminded us we had a lot of time left,” Asel said. “We took those words to heart and came back.”
After falling behind 8-2 early on, Broxson, Martino and Asel, along with contributions from Yimaj, Fletchall and sophomore guards Duncan Miller and Charles Duross, helped get a 27-20 Mason lead by halftime. Martino and Asel came out strong to start the third before Monroe began its sprint.
The win was big for a few reasons. For one, it preserved a perfect, 2-0 home record. Secondly, it removed the taste of last Friday’s loss to nearby Yorktown. And maybe most importantly, it’s one of those character-revealing victories that the team can draw inspiration from during the course of the season.
A perfect home record will be tested tonight when the Mustangs host Bishop O’Connell High School at 5:30 p.m.