This wasn’t a game worthy of being played in the first round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs.
Tuesday night’s playoff opener between Mount Airy and Bishop McGuinness, the state’s fifth- and sixth-ranked 1A teams according to MaxPreps.com, could have just as easily have been a regional semifinal or final, considering the quality of play and the talent that was on the court. And it took an effort worthy of a state championship game for the Bears to pull out the 54-51 victory.
Mount Airy (17-8 overall) trailed for much of the fourth quarter against the Villains, a team they had beaten twice during the regular season. This time around, it looked like Bishop might get revenge. The visitors trailed 43-39 going into the fourth quarter, but gained the advantage when CJ Cappuccio hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the final period. Then, after Donavon Greene scored to put Mount Airy back on top, Bishop’s Ryan Moon hit a three of his own to put his team in front 49-47 with 5:09 to play.
The next four-plus minutes were a furious defensive battle on both ends of the floor, with the Bears’ Greene and the Villains’ Jake Babcock and Andrew Budzinski repeatedly blocking and/or altering close-in shots and forcing misses. Bishop led 50-49 when Mount Airy starting point guard Greg Greene fouled out, making the odds against the home team even longer. Moon, who led all scorers with 22 points, made one of two free throws.
Bishop led by two with a minute to play. Unfortunately for the Villains, that final minute belonged to two of the Granite Bears, Donavon Greene and senior Caleb Arrington.
With 55 seconds remaining, the Villains took a chance and tried to trap Arrington, but the latter was able to draw a foul and sank both free throws, tying the game at 51. Bishop got the ball back, and most everyone expected them to hold for a final shot, since they had been stalling on the previous possession where Moon made one of two. However, they ran their regular offense this time and Moon drove to the basket against Donavon Greene, saddled with four fouls. The 6’3” junior gambled that he could draw the charge, established position a split-second before Moon arrived, and got the call with 37.7 seconds on the clock.
“Donavon Greene had a season-saving charge,” said Mount Airy head coach Levi Goins. “At this time of the year, you lose and you go home, and that’s the first charge of his career, and it was a heck of a time to make that decision.
“You got to take that chance. We’ve been preaching all year that you have to win those little battles, and I’m very proud of him for stepping up and doing that.”
The Villains declined to let the Bears hold for a final shot, once again playing an aggressive, trapping defense. Once again, Arrington was too good for them and drew a foul. With 25.7 left, he swished two more free throws in front of the Bears’ bench, and his team led for the first time in five minutes.
“Caleb hit big free throws at the end,” Goins said. “We trailed for most of the fourth quarter, and Greg fouling out was big defensively and offensively, but we found a way to win.”
After Arrington’s free throws, hard-nosed defense kept Bishop from getting the shot it wanted until Moon got open in a scramble situation with two seconds left and gunned one from the top of the key. The Bears’ student section held its breath, but the Villain senior missed badly, with the ball going out of bounds at the 1.3 second mark.
Donavon Greene was fouled with a half-second to play, made one of two free throws to make it 54-51, and then Bishop’s last gasp came when they inbounded the ball to Babcock, who let fly from half-court. His shot went off the backboard and the front of the rim, and the Granite Bears advanced to the second round of what amounts to a second Northwest 1A Conference Tournament.
The sectional that the Bears and Villains were assigned to has Winston-Salem Prep (22-3) as its top seed, and the Bears will play the Phoenix for a fourth time on Thursday night. The winner of that game will almost certainly face regular-season NW1A runner-up South Stokes in the third round.
“It’s always fun this time of year to go play somebody new,” said Goins. “I didn’t like the way this was set up, but I just told our guys that we know who we’re playing. We know about them. I’m OK with it.”
The key players on both sides of this rivalry have been playing against each other for years, and there was little secret about what Mount Airy would do, or what Bishop (18-9) would do. The Bears led 4-2 early, and then the Villains went on an 8-0 run, sparked by threes from Moon and Cappuccio. Donavon Greene ended the first quarter with a dunk, but the visitors ended it on top 14-12.
“We know each other probably better than anybody. They know what play we’re going to run and we know what play they’re going to run,” said Goins.
Ryan Graham hit a 3-pointer at the start of the second to put Mount Airy back on top, but Budzinski soon pulled the Villains even at 16. A driving layup by Jeremiah Rosser and an and-one layup by Greg Greene put the Bears up five, and they led by as many as eight before faltering in the last half-minute and letting the Villains chop the lead in half. It was 29-25 at the break after an and-one by Moon.
“I was disappointed that we let them have that little run right before half,” Goins said. “We should have been up 29-22, and we turned the ball over and we committed a foul for a three-point play. It’s a big difference between into halftime up 29-22 and 29-25. (Bishop was) excited about it.”
The Villains had the momentum to start the second half and moved ahead 35-33 before Arrington dialed long distance. Cappuccio answered for Bishop, but the Bears had the edge late in the period, getting a stickback by Donavon Greene and a short jumper by Graham to lead 43-39 after three. The basket by the younger Greene put him over 1,000 points for his career.
Arrington led the Bears with 17 points. Donavon Greene added 13 and Graham 11. Cappuccio had 13 for the Villains, including four 3-pointers.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.