A game that began at a near crawl ended with McLean holding off a scrappy effort by Stuart in the final minute to win the Virginia AAA nondistrict boys basketball game, 59-57, last night in the home opener for Stuart.

For McLean Coach Jim Smith, it was his first visit to Stuart since starring for the Raiders 12 years ago.

The final moments couldn't have ended any sweeter, as his team forged back from a 10-point deficit in the second half.

"I felt like we had a good, solid game plan," Smith said. "We wanted to play good transition defense and take {Stuart's Walter Wright} away in the half-court offense. We felt that if we did those things and made the other kids beat us, we'd be okay.

"Offensively, we were getting good shots. We just had to get some things to fall. We got a little bit off the press at the end of the {fourth} quarter, which I feel really turned things around.

"It got our kids a little bit excited and made them certain that they could win."

McLean, which improved to 2-1, could have made matters easier for itself in the final minute, but converted only three of 10 free throws.

Stuart (1-1) trimmed a 56-49 deficit to 57-54 after Eddie Starr (10 points) completed a three-point play, scoring off a double-pump layup and subsequent free throw with 47 seconds left.

But after Juan Zavala (eight points) made one of two free throws to make it a four-point Highlanders lead, Stuart could have pulled closer, but Starr was whistled for a double-dribble on a strong drive down the lane with 31 seconds to go.

Stuart swarmed the court with excellent defense to force McLean into a five-second violation, but Wright (10 points) missed a pull-up jumper with 25 seconds remaining.

Nathaniel Friends, who led McLean with a game-high 26 points, could have iced the game, but he made only one of two free throws at the 18-second mark.

However, it took the Raiders 13 seconds to find a good shot before Starr connected on a three-pointer to narrow it to 59-57.

Just holding on, though, was satisfaction enough for McLean.

"It was a real good win for us, letting us know that we can win a game in that situation," said Smith. "There will be some good teaching things that we can take from this game to improve as the season goes along. But of course winning is the greatest reinforcement of all.

"When you win a little bit, it sure makes things easier."