If Wednesday night’s semifinal game of the Northwest 1A Conference Tournament was Mount Airy’s last encounter with Bishop McGuinness this season, the Granite Bears won’t miss them.
The tournament hosts took care of business with a 66-50 victory, but like Mount Airy’s last encounter with the Villains, back on Feb. 3, the Bears had more than a few shaky moments in claiming the win.
“We did not keep out heads at the end, and they’re a good defensive team,” said Mount Airy coach Levi Goins. “Credit to them, but we did make some unnecessary turnovers for sure.”
Bishop (14-11 overall) led for most of the first quarter, and Mount Airy didn’t claim the lead for good until it ran off the last seven points of the first half for a 32-25 lead at intermission. The Bears then proceeded to build a 21-point lead two minutes into the fourth quarter, only to watch the Villains chop their deficit to as few as 11 points on several occasions, with chances to get the game into single digits. Finally, the Bears restored order in the final 65 seconds of the game, and scored the last five points of the evening.
With the win, Mount Airy (21-5) advanced to the tournament championship game on Friday night. That day will be a Bear doubleheader at the Howard Finch Gym, with the Mount Airy girls taking on Atkins at 6:30 p.m., and the boys then facing Winston-Salem Prep (21-3) for the third time this season.
The Villains’ C.J. Cappucio hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, and his team led for nearly the entire period, carrying a 16-14 lead after the first eight minutes. The Bears’ Caleb Arrington quickly tied it, but then Mount Airy went almost three minutes without scoring again. Fortunately, the Bears’ defense was just as tough, and all Bishop managed was a 3-pointer by Ryan Moon before Arrington struck again, stealing the ball near midcourt, taking it for a score, and drawing a foul. His bonus free throw tied the game at 19. From there, it went back-and-forth until Arrington broke a 25-all tie by scoring on a putback with 1:50 before the break. On the next Mount Airy possession, Donavon Greene was double-teamed near the baseline and kicked the ball out to Arrington, who gunned in a three. A stickback by Ryan Graham four seconds before the buzzer left the Bears on top 32-25 at the break.
“Watching them warm up, we kind of expected this,” said Goins of the Villains’ fast start and early shooting prowess. “They’re a great shooting team, that’s what they are. I’m proud that our defensive pressure stepped up and made it a little more difficult for them to get an open look.”
After intermission, the Bears quickly built the lead to 10 points, thanks to a basket-and-foul three points followed by two free throws from Graham, and then another Arrington three, his third of the night. The Villains scored just one point in the last 5:43 of the third quarter, and when Gregory Greene tossed ahead to Donavon for a layup with 40 seconds left in the period, the lead was up to 46-32, and the Bears were poised for more in the final period.
Mount Airy looked like a championship team in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Bishop opened with the ball, but Graham almost immediately stole it and went 65 feet the other way for a layup, drawing contact in the process and immediately making the “score it” gesture to make sure the referee knew it. He made the free throw for a 17-point lead. Moments later, the Villains were back on the attack and Donavon Greene rejected their shot — one of many on the night — igniting another break that led to a bucket for Will Sparks. Before everyone had even taken that in, the Bears had taken the ball back and Gregory Greene finished with a layup. After just 57 seconds of play, Bishop coach Josh Thompson was calling timeout with his team down 53-32.
“Some of those were just so impressive,” Goins said of Greene’s blocked shots. “Sometimes I felt like they beat us, and here he comes out of nowhere to get another block.”
After each team scored again, the Villains went on a 10-0 run over a span of about two minutes, as the Bears committed three costly turnovers to help the Bishop rally. When Goins called time-out with 3:59 remaining, the game was starting to resemble the one 12 days earlier in Kernersville, where Mount Airy led by 23, but allowed the Villains to score 36 fourth-quarter points and nearly come back.
Not this time. Arrington wasn’t having it. He shook free from the left wing and knocked down a three. Graham followed with two free throws and the lead went back to 16. Bishop didn’t fold, as Jack Arnold and Cappucio combined for three baskets and made it 61-50 with 2:22 left, but the Bears’ defense did the rest, not allowing the Villains to score another point.
“Caleb had to work really hard for every shot he took tonight,” said Goins. “They ran a triangle-and-one on him…threw a lot of different stuff at him.”
Arrington led Mount Airy with 25 points. Graham added 15 and Sparks 11. For Bishop McGuinness, Cappucio had 12, Moon 11 and Arnold 10.
In the early game, Atkins’ girls defeated the Villains 54-40 and advanced to Friday’s championship game.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.