CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It was by no means an easy shot, though they rarely are with the game on the line.
George Washington’s 6-foot-6 sophomore Ben Nicol received a pass from teammate John Goetz with 16 seconds remaining and the Patriots trailing top seed Morgantown by one point in the inaugural Class AAAA final.
Nicol dribbled twice, and fired a pull-up jump shot over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-7 Carson Poffenberger. The shot swished through the net, which combined with one last defensive stop, allowed second-seeded George Washington to claim a thrilling 47-46 victory over the Mohigans at the Charleston Coliseum.
“We had the ball for a couple seconds, nothing was really going. I took one jab left, went right, shot it over top of him and it fell,” Nicol said.
It gave the Patriots their third state championship under coach Rick Greene — with the other two in 2011 and 2018.
“I don’t really know how we won that game,” Greene said. “We kept digging and digging and found a way to hit a last shot.”
Nicol’s late-game heroics allowed GW to overcome a pair of Alec Poland free throws with 32 seconds left that had put the Mohigans in front by one. Morgantown senior Luke Bechtel had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but his mid-range jumper missed the mark.
“Luke deserves to make that shot, but it didn’t drop,” Morgantown coach Dave Tallman said. “Hats off to George Washington. They had guys that made shots that aren’t their go-to guys. (Nicol) was six for eight from the floor. They had a guy step up. We had guys that usually make shots that didn’t.”
The Patriots (17-1) trailed by three entering the final quarter and fell behind by five in the fourth, but Nicol hit a three-pointer with five minutes left that tied it at 41.
Two free throws from Bechtel put Morgantown (19-2) back on top, before Alex Yokaum’s layup knotted the game again.
After Xavier Pryor made 1-of-2 free throws with 3:44 remaining, Yoakum’s jumper with 2:14 left to put GW back in front.
The Patriots, who shot nearly 50 percent (19 of 40) made 6-of-10 shots in the final quarter to aid their rally.
“It’s a credit to the kids,” Greene said. “They literally refused to lose.”
Yoakum made two threes in the opening quarter and teammate Isaac McAllister added a triple to help the Patriots build a 16-10 lead.
But MHS held GW to four points in the second quarter, and Poland made two triples, while Poffenberger and Bechtel scored four points apiece to help the Mohigans build their own six-point lead entering halftime.
The 26-20 advantage didn’t last long, however, with Nicol and Yoakum scoring five apiece to key the Patriots’ 10-3 run over the first 3:01 of the third quarter.
However, GW struggled to contain Poffenberger, who scored eight points over the final 4:47 of the third and nine of the team’s 11 in the quarter, allowing MHS to lead 37-34 after three.
“Coach Tallman did a good job of spreading us and isolating Poffenberger,” Greene said.
After making 11-of-20 shots in the opening half, Morgantown was 6 of 20 from the field over the last two quarters.
The Patriots made 7-of-15 three-pointers, while the Mohigans were 2 of 12 beyond the arc and 0 for 5 in the second half.
“We thrive on making a bunch of threes and we’re two for twelve and lose by one and score forty-six,” Tallman said. “I can’t remember the last time we scored forty-six. They were switching defenses and that gave us fits. We didn’t get any easy ones.”
Poffenberger had 17 points and seven rebounds, while Poland had 14 points and five boards.
“I know how disappointed they are,” Greene said. “I’ve sat on that bench as a player and a coach, and it’s devastating because you get so close to a championship. But they’re not losers. We hit a bucket.”
Yoakum’s 17 points led GW, while Nicol made 6-of-8 shots and scored 14. Mason Pinkett added eight points, five boards and a pair of steals in the win.
“We work hard for this moment right here and to finish it like this with a championship is real special,” Pinkett said. “Props to Ben — a sophomore stepping up and hitting the game-winner. That’s big time. We have complete confidence in him and we put the work in every single day for these moments right here.”
Class AAAA all-tournament team
Brendan Hoffman, Huntington
Doryn Smith, Martinsburg
Ben Nicol, George Washington
Alec Poland, Morgantown
Luke Bechtel, Morgantown
Carson Poffenberger, Morgantown
Alex Yoakum, George Washington
Mason Pinkett, George Washington