This past Saturday, the George Mason Mustangs defeated the Floyd County Buffaloes by a score of 53-46, winning the Virginia A Division 2 Championship for the first time since 1998.
While it took Mason a while to get warmed up, there was no turning back once they took the lead in the second quarter. Backed by a tremendous effort from their starting lineup, the Mustangs established a relentless tempo that would lead them to victory.
The Mustangs were led by junior Nicole Mitchell, who not only played the power forward position, but acted as a point guard of sorts for Mason at various times throughout the game by handling the ball and setting up teammates for open shots. After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Mitchell began to show why she was named Bull Run District Player of the year. Mitchell hit a variety of difficult shots, including a spinning shot for her first points of the game, a three-pointer, and a 16 foot jumper towards the end of the game, and ended the game with 13 points and led the team with 15 rebounds.
Mason also got magnificent performances from the rest of its starting lineup. Freshman forward Bria Platenburg led the team with 14 points, many of which came off of wide open layups off of a fastbreak or a precision pass. In her final game, center Kim Kenny scored eight points, including two free throws at the end of the game to seal the victory. Guard Lauren Kane, who along with Platenburg is a freshman, put up seven points, including a three pointer midway through the second quarter that gave Mason a five point lead and helped spark the momentum for the rest of the game. And rounding out the starting lineup was junior point guard Chantal Thomas, who put up eight points. While Thomas technically received four assists, she would often throw the ball to an open teammate on the fastbreak, resulting in numerous open layups for her teammates. Thomas also gave the Floyd defense nightmares with the tempo she set and the ball movement she created.
Much like in Friday’s victory over Lancaster, virtually all of the Mason points came from the starting lineup. The only points to come from the bench were the two scored by junior Kelsey Kane off a layup at the end of the third quarter while acting as the team’s center. In spite of this, the bench still provided for Mason, particularly point guard Leah Roth, the third member of Mason’s freshman class, who helped dictate the tempo that Thomas had established.
Mason was playing a team in Floyd County that had not only won the championship last year, but eliminated Mason in the semifinals along the way. The Buffaloes also returned four of their five starters from the year before, while Mason had graduated eight seniors from the previous season. In spite of the disadvantage in experience, Mason was relentless in their defense. Floyd’s star guard Brittany Avancini, who scored 31 points in last year’s game, was held in check for nearly the entire game. While Avancini still managed to score 19 points, she missed all of her field goal attempts in the second half, and scored only six points in the final two quarters of her high school career. She also struggled throughout the game with her shot selection, shooting only 5-19 from the floor. Floyd as a team struggled throughout the entire game with free throws and three-pointers. Floyd only converted on two of their three point attempts in the entire game, their first one and their last one, with about 15 misses in between. The team only made 30% of their shots, and were outrebounded by Mason 43-28.
“Our 1-2-2 defense and our rebounding,” said Junior forward Adeyianka Bowman when asked which aspect of the team worked best for Mason.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Thomas stole the ball from Avancini and ran in for an uncontested layup. That gave Mason a 14 point lead, their largest of the game, a lead that gave the Mustang fans a big sigh of relief, as it appeared that last year’s defeat at the hands of Floyd would finally be avenged.
After the layup however, Floyd went on a furious run that saw them score nine unanswered points, capped off by a three-pointer that cut the lead to five. Thomas and Kenny were able to make their free throws though, and Floyd would only score once more the rest of the way.
The game was experienced by a crowd noticeably smaller than the one that had attended the game against Lancaster, thanks in large part to the number of students who took the SAT in the morning. The lack in numbers did not mean a drop in intensity though, as the fans who attended were vocal and cheered on their Mustangs every possession. In acknowledgement of the tremendous role the fans had played all season, the Mustang players gave the crowd a standing ovation at the conclusion of the game.
As the final buzzer rang, first year head coach LaBryan Thomas watched in joy as the Mustangs celebrated at half-court and piled on Chantal Thomas, many with tears in their eyes over what they had worked tirelessly for months to achieve. In a fitting manner, Mitchell won the Player of the Game honor for her tremendous performance.
With much of their team returning next year, Mason looks to defend their crown as the biggest target for all the other teams they play. For now though, they can enjoy being State Champions.