About six weeks ago, George Washington decided it didn’t want to be just an OK team. It wanted more, demanded more. Since then, the Patriots haven’t stopped improving and are back in the state tournament.
Mason Pinkett dropped in 20 points Tuesday evening and Evan Hughes donated 14 points and eight rebounds to spark GW to a 71-52 victory over Princeton in the Class AAA Region 3 co-finals at George Washington High School.
With their 12th straight win, the Patriots (19-5) earned a spot in the March 18-21 state tournament at the Charleston Coliseum, their fourth berth in a row. They received the No. 3 seed and will square off with No. 6 Wheeling Park (18-6) at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 19 in the quarterfinals.
“I’m 4 for 4, so this one was important for me,’’ said Hughes, a senior forward. “I love playing at the Civic Center. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, so it’s just special for me.’’
Princeton (16-9) battled with GW at the outset, leading by as many as five points in the first quarter, but a 24-6 advantage for the Patriots in the second quarter bumped their lead to 36-17 at halftime. The Tigers were never able to come within 14 points in the second half.
George Washington was again remarkable in sharing the ball and getting efficient 3-point shooting from all over its lineup. The Patriots were 10 of 16 from long range, with five different players making at least one triple. In the sectional finals against St. Albans, GW was 10 of 17 on 3s with five separate players sinking one.
The state tournament trip is the culmination of the team’s vast development from where it stood in late January — carrying a 7-5 record after suffering back-to-back Mountain State Athletic Conference losses. Since then, the Patriots have ripped off a dozen consecutive wins, capturing the MSAC championship and three postseason games along the way.
“The kids flipped the switch, really,’’ said GW coach Rick Greene. “After that loss to Spring Valley [on Jan. 23], we watched tape for 21/2 hours, and everybody went through the acid test, coaches included. There wasn’t any place to hide; the tape doesn’t lie.
“The coaching staff is the first one to get that test, myself included. It was an honest discussion the next day, and credit to the kids, they decided what we wanted to do. I knew what we wanted to do as coaches, and knew what we wanted them to do, but they had to decide what they wanted to do and it was, ‘OK, let’s go. We’ve been underachieving.’ And from that day on, we’ve had some bumps, but we’ve been getting better and better.’’
Besides having trouble containing GW’s multi-faceted offense, Princeton couldn’t get enough points on the board, finishing with one of its lowest scoring totals of the season. The Tigers were 22 of 66 from the floor overall (33 percent) and only 4 of 19 on 3s. They were also outrebounded 42-34.
“The second quarter is what made the difference,’’ said Princeton coach Robb Williams, whose team was down just 12-11 after one period. “In the second half, we played with them.
“The first quarter, we missed a couple easy ones but we’re still down one. Next thing you know, we’re down  at the half. That was a huge difference; they killed us there. You’ve just got to give it to them. They’re MSAC champs for a reason. They’re sectional champs, regional champs for a reason. They weren’t missing and we weren’t hitting in that second quarter. I’m very pleased with the effort, but once you get down to a team like that, it’s hard to chip away.’’
Peyton Brown knocked down four 3s and led the Tigers with 20 points. Delathan Wilborn added 12 points and Ethan Parsons grabbed 13 rebounds. Alex Yoakum had 10 points for GW.
The closest the Tigers got in the second half was 56-42 with 5:59 left on a Brown steal and layup, but Pinkett hit a 3 from the left corner to start a 10-0 run to salt it away.