Friday night inside the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, the mettle of Woodrow Wilson was fully tested by Class AAA No. 7 George Washington.
Withstanding a bizarre call that led to a Woodrow technical and a Patriots run, the Flying Eagles again proved strong enough to withstand the fourth-quarter fire.
Led by Ben Gilliam inside and Richard Law blistering the nets from deep, Woodrow Wilson knocked off its nemesis from the Capital City 84-80 in a highly intense battle.
"That was a big-time battle by both teams and we knew it would be," Woodrow Wilson head coach Ron Kidd said. "Both teams showed a whole lot of heart and our guys just gutted it out tonight."
"I am really disappointed. I don't like to get beat, but it had to be a fun game to watch," George Washington head coach Rick Greene admitted. "It was like standing eight counts back and forth. We started out pretty good and had (Woodrow) laboring a little bit. Then they came storming back. They got us wavering and I felt like we kept grinding. When we get together it is usually a pretty good basketball game."
Trailing by three points at the break, Kidd made it clear what he wanted from his team in the second half.
"To me, (GW) didn't really have anybody that could stop Ben," Kidd explained. "I think our guys realized that and was getting Ben the ball like we were supposed to."
After scoring 12 points in the first half, the big redhead was unstoppable coming out of the break, scoring nine points in the first four minutes and assisting on a three-point play from Ayden Ince.
"We are more perimeter with our guards, running and slicing," Greene said. "When they started pounding it, we just don't have that type of bulk. We have some length, but not that type of bulk. It was an excellent game plan and they exposed a weakness of ours."
With Gilliam punishing the Patriots inside, the adjustment defensively gave Woodrow more space on the perimeter and in the lane.
Ince and Law made good use of the space with jumpers, while K.J. Jones sliced and diced his way through the lane for key scores.
Woodrow regained the lead in a red hot third period and led by five in the fourth when it attempted to break the game open.
Law drilled a long ball for three of his 25 points on the night, before Jones knocked down a runner in the lane. Gilliam capped a quick 7-0 spurt with two of his 25 points to give Woodrow a 12-point lead with just over three minutes to play.
"I thought Richard hit some big shots when we needed a big shot," Kidd said. "Right there before the half, I thought that might have been Maddex's (McMillen) best game shooting the ball. He hit three big 3s when (GW) was about ready to blow us out. He showed a lot of heart and that is what we need from him."
The Patriots fought back to within five, but could not get key 3s to drop as the clock ticked inside two minutes.
"We weren't frantic in a sense, but we didn't get a rhythm," Greene said. "We needed to take a deep breath. We were open, but if we had made one more pass, it was a better shot. I never felt like we slowed up and relaxed offensively."
Leading by six with 1:08 to play, the game took a bizarre twist.
Ince broke deep on an inbound play and was hit with a perfect pass from McMillen. Ince gathered the ball on a breakaway and appeared to be getting fouled to prevent the easy score.
The official did not see it that way and ruled Ince had pushed off going to the basket. Kidd was beside himself and was hit with a technical foul.
However, the Flying Eagles maintained their poise and withstood the confusion to hold on for the win.
"Credit Ron, his staff and those kids. That is the best that I have seen them play and they shot the ball really well," Greene said. "If they keep shooting it that well and play with that intensity, then they are right there. You know they are going to be."
"GW is so well coached and they are really hard to beat," Kidd said. "They play well together, so any time you beat them it is a great feeling."
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George Washington (6-4)
Jack Ingold 8, Alex Yoakum 9, Mason Pinkett 26, Evan Hughes 11, Gus Eddy 6, William Gabbert 8, Trey Ritchie 1, Zane McCarty 8, Ben Nicol 3.
Woodrow Wilson (6-4)
Richard Law 25, Bryant Jones 10, Gen Gilliam 25, Ayden ince 14, Maddex McMillen 9, Tavea Davis 1.
GW: 20 22 16 22 — 80
WW: 17 22 24 21 — 84
3-point goals: GW: 10 (Yoakum, Pinkett 3, Hughes, Gabbert 2, McCarty 2, Nicol); WW: 9 (Law 5, Ince, McMillen 3). Fouled out: None.