Willsey, McQuage Lift West End Past Veritas
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Jan 26, 2013, 15:06
West End Christian School senior Nathanael Willsey (15) drives the lane as Veritas School freshman Seth Daly (10) defends during a Virginia Commonwealth Athletic Association game on Thursday in Hopewell. Willsey led all scorers with 30 points, Mason McQuage added 29 and the Crusaders overcame an early deficit to win 71-47 (photo by David Breidenbach).
HOPEWELL – The basketball court at West End Christian School is considerably smaller than most.
Bleachers sit within feet of one sideline and low-lying wooden rafters often interfere with high-arching jumpshots. There’s no such thing as a baseline 3-pointer at WECS, since the three-point arc extends all the way to the sideline of the narrow playing surface.
Simply put, the idiosyncratic gymnasium plays host to an unconventional brand of basketball. And the senior-laden team that calls the facility home has learned to play it well.
Buoyed by the homecourt advantage – and a combined 59 points from Nathanael Willsey and Mason McQuage – WECS cruised to a 71-47 victory over visiting Veritas School in a Virginia Commonwealth Athletic Association game on Thursday in Hopewell.
West End Christian School senior Mason McQuage unleashes a shot while under duress from two Veritas defenders on Thursday in Hopewell (photo by David Breidenbach).
“We kind of use that as our sixth man,” WECS coach Jamar Fleming said of the cozy court’s dimensions. “It sounds funny, but I kind of like it because you can’t practice for this.”
Of course, it helps to have one of the most prolific scorers in the state on the roster. McQuage’s 29 points actually fell slightly below his season average, and his efforts on the defensive end forced the Lions to settle for jumpshots for most of the game.
Willsey poured in 20 second-half points and finished with a game-high 30 while Jacob Roberts chipped in with six points and several timely assists for the Crusaders.
The senior trio proved to be far too much for Veritas to handle.
“This group of seniors has been together for so long that we just know where each other is going to be at any given moment,” McQuage said. “It’s great teamwork.”
The victory was the Crusaders’ fourth in a row over the Lions, but that streak appeared to be in jeopardy throughout the first quarter.
Veritas junior Luke Gregory started the game by converting consecutive 3s from the same spot on the left side, crafting an early 6-4 advantage for the visitors. His 15-foot jumper tied the game at 8-8 moments later and sparked an 11-2 run that culminated in a 17-10 lead for the Lions.
“We kind of came out soft, thinking it was going to be a cake walk,” Fleming said. “Veritas picked up the energy on us and made us play a little tougher. That’s the key to our team. When we play with toughness, we’re a pretty good team.”
Enter McQuage, who came off the bench late in the first quarter.
The 6-foot-2 swingman singlehandedly erased the seven-point deficit by scoring the game’s next eight points. That barrage was fueled by transition buckets, but McQuage further bolstered his ever-growing point tally with stellar play in the paint.
On three occasions in the second quarter, McQuage leaped to receive a lobbed entry pass from Roberts and finished – all in one motion – with a contested layup.
“We work on that in practice,” McQuage said. “That’s a play that we use a lot against teams that don’t have a tall player.”
Willsey followed suit by tacking on four fastbreak layups, and WECS led 34-25 by halftime. The Crusaders outscored the Lions 22-8 in the second stanza with McQuage and Willsey accounting for all of the home team’s points in the lopsided frame.
Fleming said Willsey’s offensive production prevented his team from becoming one-dimensional.
“When Nathanael’s scoring the ball it means Mason does not have to carry so much of the load,” Fleming said. “It allows everybody to touch the ball just a little bit more.”
The third quarter was a mirror image of the second. McQuage converted an old fashioned three-point play with 5:54 remaining to ignite a 16-2 run that put the game out of reach.
Brennen Grise punctuated the surge with a baseline jumpshot that made the score 51-31 with about one minute remaining in the period. Veritas freshmen Rahul Ray and Seth Daly spearheaded a spirited fourth-quarter showing for the Lions, but Willsey kept the Crusaders comfortably out front by scoring 12 points in the final frame.
Gregory finished with 14 points to lead the Lions while Daly and Jason Norfleet notched eight apiece.
With the win, WECS improved to 3-4 in conference play. The Crusaders are one of several teams clustered in the middle of the VCAA standings as the single-elimination conference tournament draws near.
McQuage’s wide-ranging contributions notwithstanding, Fleming identified Willsey as a key cog moving forward.
The 5-8 point guard played a critical role during the team’s championship run in the Richmond Christian Christmas tournament, according to the second-year coach.
“When we were there, Nathanael had to take on more of a leadership role,” Fleming said. “And that really kickstarted his season. He’s having an up and down season, but he’s one of those kids that I feel really comfortable with when the ball is in his hands.”
VS: 17 8 8 14 – 47
WECS: 12 22 19 18 – 71
VERITAS: Gregory 14, Daly 8, Ray 6, Francis 7, Norfleet 8, S. Worden 4. Totals: 20 5-8 47. 3-pointers: Gregory 2.
WEST END: McQuage 29, George 4, Willsey 30, Roberts 6, Grise 2, Vaughn 0, Ellis 0. Totals: 31 6-10 67. 3-pointers: Willsey 3.