When you have the talent on paper, putting the puzzle together is always easy for the outsiders. Reaching potential takes more than just the talent on the roster though and seasons aren’t truly made until February. After a 1-9 start to the season, nine wins in the last 12 contests has put Madison County right back where it’s used to being — a Region 2B contender, and it’s February again, tournament time.
Facing George Mason in the Bull Run District semifinals, the Mountaineers had a chance to pick up the rubber game after a regular season split. Madison got the job done with a strong showing defensively, especially late en route to a 50-46 win.
“We played them here a couple of weeks ago and it was a really close game and that atmosphere, that urgency really prepared us for this situation,” said Madison coach Ben Breeden. “We turned it up a notch and out guys did a good job just staying with their man and making them work.”
The second half belonged to Madison as it never trailed after the midway point of the third. An 13-4 run paced by Kobi Alexander’s work in the paint allowed the Mountaineers to take a 36-29 advantage into the fourth quarter.
“The energy was crazy,” Alexander said. “We knew we could come out here and beat these guys. We knew if we stayed focused and do what we needed to we could come here with a win and that’s all we came to do. We got it so I’m happy.”
The fourth saw Mason respond with a 12-5 run behind the shooting of Max Ashton and Halloway Smith to make it 41-41 midway through the frame.
The final two minutes turned out to be relatively frenetic in a game that was otherwise methodic. Alexander was able to make it 45-43 on a slick move underneath and after Khalid West and Elijah Lewis forced a steal, Lewis gave the Mountaineers a 4-point lead with just under a minute to go.
Mason answered though with Anish Chattenjee spotting up and burying a 3-pointer on a well contested shot to cut it to 47-46. From there the Mountaineers went to the free throw line. Alexander extended it to 48-46 with 18 seconds to go. Madison then forced a turnover on an inbounds pass and with 10.1 seconds left Gaines Swink hit a pair of foul shots to put the game away.
“This is showing that we can be that team from last year,” Alexander said. “We can still be as good.”
The first half mostly went Mason’s way with Mustangs going up 9-5 to start but Madison tying things up before the second at 9-9. Mason went up 15-10 to start the second but West gave Madison a 19-17 lead with 2:40 to until the break. The Mustangs closed the first half off with back-to-back three’s from Ashton to take a 25-23 lead going into halftime.
“They played us in a zone that’s slowed us down the last couple of games,” Breeden said. “We felt good because we weren’t turning it over, were getting decent looks, executing what we were working on in practice. We felt like we were in a good position (going into the second half). It was just a few of things here and there that made the difference for us on the defensive end.”
On the night, Alexander had a team best 17 points to go with seven rebounds. Lewis with 13 points despite facing significant foul trouble early on. West had seven points.
Madison faces Central Woodstock in the BRD championship game and is guaranteed a spot in the Region 2B playoffs next week. The Mountaineers split the regular season meeting with the Falcons but won the previous meeting on January 24 by a score of 56-53.