Every time the W.T. Woodson boys’ basketball team needed a three-pointer during Saturday’s Virginia 6A state semifinal, it was there.
It was there when Mike Szabomade a three to push Woodson ahead of Landstown just before the close of the first quarter. It was there when Matt Ayoub connected on a three from the corner to tie the game with less than two minutes to play. And as the coaches drew up a final play, down three with 31 seconds to go, the thought was that the perimeter space would again be there to force overtime.
Instead, the No. 16 Cavaliers saw Landstown deviate from the zone defense it had shown most of the game, muddying the scheme and leading the Cavaliers into an out-of-sync shot from the top of the key at the buzzer that fell short and allowed the Eagles to hang on for a 40-37 win in Fairfax.
“We expected them to come out in a [1-2-2] zone like they had been in, but once they came out in man, that threw us off and we couldn’t get the look we wanted,” said Ayoub, who finished with 14 points, including four three-pointers.
The undersized Cavaliers (21-9) entered Saturday’s game depending on their defense to slow 6-foot-8 junior Darius Bolstad. While Woodson held the center to just four points, it had a tough time capitalizing on the other end. The Cavaliers shot 6 for 23 from behind the three-point line and 27 percent from the field, and leading scorer Eric Bowles struggled to find space to penetrate, finishing with just one point.
“We had good looks against their zone, especially in the first half,” Cavaliers Coach Doug Craig said, “but we just didn’t make our shots.”
When the Cavaliers did hit their outside attempts, they came at opportune times. Three long-range shots sparked an 11-2 first-quarter run, and an Ayoub three-pointer helped end a 6-0 Landstown run in the third period, once again pushing Woodson into the lead.
But a Cavaliers’ field-goal drought that spanned nearly 10 minutes allowed the Eagles (23-5) to rebuild a 37-32 lead heading into the final two minutes. An Andy Stynchula jumper and another Ayoub three tied the score before the Cavaliers again went cold. After an Eagles free throw, Brandon Pringle (14 points) hit a runner with about 40 seconds left to extend Landstown’s lead to three.
Following a timeout, the Cavaliers dribbled down the clock before seeking out Ayoub for a corner three. But with the Eagles’ man-to-man defense shadowing him, Woodson was forced to look elsewhere for an open perimeter shot that never materialized. For the second straight year, their season ended one game short of the state final.
“I don’t know if we had any more timeouts, but maybe we could have called one after we saw them come out in man,” Bowles said. “But you can’t take it back now. We still had a good season with all we went through as a team.”