RICHMOND – The final horn blared like an alarm clock, sending several George Mason players for cover as they pulled their jerseys over their heads. Time had finally run out in Friday’s overtime thriller against Greensville County in the Virginia 2A state semifinals, but the Mustangs were not yet ready to be roused from their dream season.
The energetic, gritty play that had become a staple of No. 17 George Mason’s undefeated run to Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center carried the Mustangs through 36 exhausting minutes of back-and-forth action. In the end, the Mustangs’ first taste of defeat this season proved extremely bitter, a 66-63 loss on an Eagles three-pointer in the final seconds.
“That’s what sports is all about, just neither team giving in,” Mustangs Coach Chris Capannola said. “I’m not a big cliche guy, but someone had to lose that game and unfortunately, it was us.”
At times, it appeared the outcome would be different. After watching from the bench as their team fall behind 30-23 at halftime, Josh Allen and 2A East region player of the year Robert Tartt returned from early foul trouble to score 15 of George Mason’s 19 third-quarter points and push the Mustangs (29-1) into the lead.
Then, as the fourth quarter wound to an end, Elliot Mercado drew the fifth foul on Greenville’s top player, Jordan Peebles (28 points, 10 rebounds), and calmly hit two free throws to force overtime.
“That was a confidence boost,” said Tartt, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds. “Not that we thought we had this or were looking ahead, but we figured it’d be a little easier to get the win with [Peebles] out. But they made shots.”
After Mercado scored the first six points of overtime to put George Mason up 63-57, the Eagles (24-5) found an offensive spark in Chris Mason, whose second three-pointer from the right corner with two seconds left served as the difference.
“I thought this was it. This was quite the team,” Mercado said after netting a team-high 24 points. “It just didn’t work out in the end.”
Somber as they were following the crushing defeat, the 29 straight wins that preceded still outweighed Friday’s result, allowing seniors like Allen, Mercado and Tartt to grasp the totality of what the Mustangs accomplished this winter.
“I came in sophomore year, got myself in the mix and it was instantly the most fun I had playing basketball,” Allen said. “Amazing chemistry that just got better and better each year. And obviously, this year was the top.”