For George Washington, it was no Pinkett, no panic.
When St. Albans applied a box-and-one defense to clamp down on Mason Pinkett, GW’s top scorer, the Patriots simply looked elsewhere for their points Friday night and emerged with a 69-54 victory in the Class AAA Region 3 Section 1 finals in front of a rollicking, near-capacity crowd of more than 1,000 at GW High School.
The outcome allows GW (18-5), riding an 11-game winning streak, to play at home in Tuesday’s Region 3 co-finals against Princeton. SA (16-8), which had won seven straight, is not eliminated but must travel to Woodrow Wilson Tuesday in the other regional final. The winners there advance to the March 18-21 state tournament at the Charleston Coliseum.
William Gabbert tallied a career-high 22 points for GW, making his first seven shots from the floor and missing just once all night. Alex Yoakum (15 points, six rebounds), like Gabbert, drained three 3-pointers as the Patriots gunned in 10 of 17 from long range.
“I hit that first bucket of the game,’’ Gabbert said, “and after that I had confidence and just kept shooting it, taking what the defense gives me. They were running a box-and-one on Mason, and the other four of us out there, we just knew we had to attack and get them out of it and get Mason involved, too.’’
Pinkett, who was hounded by SA defensive stopper Ethan Clay much of the way, had just four shot attempts in the first half, but GW still held a comfortable 37-24 lead at the break. Pinkett finished with nine points — about half his season average — but remained an integral part of the Patriots’ attack.
“I thought Mason did a great job of not getting frustrated,’’ said GW coach Rick Greene. “It didn’t take him out of the game. He even said during the game, ‘We’re good. We’ve got other guys who can score.’
“With the box-and-one, you’ve got to make sure the other guys don’t get good looks, and we have just too many scorers and shooters, I think. But if Mason doesn’t handle that right and everybody’s out of whack and now everybody’s mad ... so credit to him and credit to the kids for stepping up and making shots.’’
Five different GW players knocked in at least one triple in the game, and the Patriots were 7 of 10 from 3-point distance in the first half in building their lead.
After GW went up by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, St. Albans put a few rallies together. The Red Dragons sliced their deficit to 51-45 on a pull-up jumper by Jaimelle Claytor (21 points, 10 rebounds) with 6:47 left in the game. They cut it to 57-50 on an Ethan Clay scoop shot with 3:08 remaining, but GW made 9 of 12 fourth-quarter free throws to stay in control.
“That’s a well-coached team,’’ St. Albans coach Bryan England said of the Patriots. “Like I said before the game, they’re GW. They’re Rick Greene’s team for a reason. You’ve got to give them props. They play hard, they defend, they hit shots, they run their offense, they’re disciplined.
“It was just one of those nights for us. I felt like our guys gave good effort, and I’m proud of them. Moving forward, I think we can build off that going into the regional game.’’
St. Albans, which last appeared in the regionals in 2004, lost 73-61 at Woodrow Wilson on Jan. 21.
Shooting played a big part in Friday’s game. While GW was hitting 58 percent from the floor (21 of 36) and making 17 of 22 free throws, SA was converting just 36 percent from the field (20 of 56) and missed half its 18 foul shots.
Rodney Toler, who battled first-half foul trouble, added 11 points and Clay 10 for St. Albans. Bones Johnson came off the bench to knock down a pair of first-half 3s and had all eight of his points prior to halftime. The Dragons were 5 of 19 on 3s, including 1 of 9 in the second half.