WOODSTOCK – For most of Saturday’s George Sheetz Classic championship game, Quality Education Academy gave Massanutten Military Academy’s nationally ranked postgraduate boys basketball team everything it could handle. The Colonels looked like one of the premier postgrad teams in the country in the final minutes.
MMA turned what had otherwise been a closely contested contest into a rout late in the second half by outscoring the Fighting Pharaohs by 16 points over the last five minutes, running away with a 100-84 victory to close out the regular season.
The Colonels entered the game ranked No. 1 in multiple national polls and now await their seeding in the 12-team, invitation-only National Prep Championship in Connecticut in two weeks. They ended the championship game of their four-team home tournament – which also included Beckley Prep (West Virginia) and Covenant College Prep (New Jersey) – with a 21-5 run to break open a tie ballgame.
“They were playing hard, so we figured we had to go just a little bit harder, go the extra mile, give a little more, sacrifice,” said Colonels point guard Rasir Bolton, who scored a game-high 38 points in the win. “We’ve got a week off until the tournament, so you give everything you’ve got and you’re going in with the No. 1 seed.”
MMA (32-3), which led by 8 points midway through the second half, found itself trailing 77-76 before Miles James connected on a 3-pointer for the game’s final lead change with 5:30 to play. QEA tied the game on a driving basket by Jaren English following a Colonels timeout, but James began what would become the game’s decisive run when he backed down a defender for a bucket with five minutes to play.
James, Bolton and Mekhi Long took turns scoring a string of 14 unanswered points for MMA, with Bolton burying a step-back 3 from the top of the arc to give the Colonels the first double-figure lead for either team with 1:50 left.
The Pharaohs, who turned the ball over 20 times in the loss, went scoreless for over three and half minutes during the final four minutes of the game.
“We realized once we took away the right hand of (QEA guard Marquise Watson and English) there was really no one else on the floor to score for them,” James said. “We all came together as a team, attacking the basket, kept doing what was working.”
Bolton, who was honored before the game for reaching 2,000 points in his high school career, scored 20 points in the second half and finished the game 5-for-7 from 3. He was 4-for-4 from deep in the first half.
“It felt good. I’ve been off for a while, so it felt good to see them fall,” Bolton said.
QEA kept pace with the Colonels for most of the evening behind the scoring output of English and hulking forward Kentravious Jones. The 6-foot-10 Jones terrorized MMA in the paint in the first half, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the first 20 minutes and pulling down 10 of his 11 rebounds in that span.
“They were attacking. They were killing us on the offensive and defensive rebounding, boxing out. That’s a big dude to get out of the way,” James said of Jones. “There was really not much we could do with him.”
English handled a bulk of the Pharaohs’ scoring in the second half – he finished with 27 points, 21 in the second half – but the Colonels were given a reprieve from Jones for much of the latter part of the game after he was called for his fourth foul with 11:49 to play.
Following a first half riddled with fouls – the two teams combined to shoot 33 free throws in the first 20 minutes – MMA focused on attacking the basket in the second half. The Colonels scored 34 of their 54 second-half points in the paint.
“I think you have to adjust the way a game’s called,” said Myers, whose team shot 62 percent (18-for-29) from the floor in the second half and 51.6 percent in the game. “… There was like 27 fouls in the first half, so I’m like if they’re gonna blow the whistle then we’ve gotta attack and get to the free-throw line. We shoot free throws really well, so we had to be able to adjust.
“They actually let them play a little more in the second half but we actually finished at the rim.”
The Colonels hit 21 of 27 free throws in the victory, while QEA was 16-for-27 from the line. The Pharaohs outrebounded MMA 40-37.
Mahamadou “Mo” Diawara and Terrence Whitfield each scored 10 points before fouling out to give MMA four double-digit scorers in the victory. Isaiah Salter had 9 points, as did Mekhi Long (team-high eight rebounds), who battled his own foul trouble and sat most of the first half.
“(Long’s) kind of the guy that makes those big plays for us, a lot of 50-50 balls, and he couldn’t be on the floor,” Myers said. “And of course Mo goes (out with foul trouble). I was just proud we found a way with all the foul trouble.”
Colonels guard Tyrese Martin, a Rhode Island signee, did not play after suffering an ankle injury in practice last week, Myers said.
The 12-team field for the National Prep Championship will be announced this week, Myers said. MMA has reached the tournament, which unofficially crowns the postgrad national champ, in each of Myers’ first three seasons at the school.