Matt Ayoub couldn’t buy a bucket.
It was the region quarterfinals at Hayfield Secondary and the Woodson guard shot 1-for-9 from 3-point range. Ayoub wasn’t the only Cavalier who struggled that night, but luckily for Woodson, Eric Bowles bailed out his struggling teammates with a career-high 38 points, leading the Cavaliers to an overtime victory on Feb. 28.
Four days later, Ayoub offered a reminder why he was a second-team all-region selection, proving Saturday’s brick-fest was merely a fluke.
Ayoub knocked down five 3-pointers, including back-to-back treys to open the fourth quarter, and Woodson pulled away late from Battlefield during an 80-66 victory in the 6A North region semifinals Wednesday night at Robinson Secondary School.
Ayoub finished with 29 points, helping the Cavaliers secure a state playoff berth and a chance to win their third consecutive region championship. Woodson will face Westfield in the region final at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Robinson.
“It’s always good to have Matt on the court, even if he’s off,” said Bowles, the region Player of the Year. “You always have to respect his shot because he’s a shooter --- he can get off at any time. Everyone always has to be watching out for him. That just opens the floor for me.”
Ayoub was on-target for much of Wednesday’s contest. His first 3-pointer capped a 10-0 first-quarter run, giving Woodson an early 12-7 lead.
In the third quarter, Ayoub followed his second 3-pointer with a transition bucket, giving the Cavaliers a 51-41 advantage.
Ayoub opened the fourth quarter with a pair from behind the arc, capping a 19-6 run that turned a tied game into a lopsided affair. Woodson led 58-45 and held a double-digit advantage for the remainder of the contest.
His final 3-pointer gave the Cavaliers a 64-51 lead with 5:50 remaining.
“I wasn’t real worried about it,” Woodson head coach Doug Craig said about Ayoub’s off night in the quarterfinals. “He’s a second-team all-region player because he’s a very good player.”
While Ayoub returned to his sharp-shooting self, Bowles continued his dominant postseason run, scoring 27 points. The senior point guard is averaging 30.7 points in three region tournament games and said he can’t remember playing better than he has during this recent stretch.
“It’s my last year,” said Bowles, who will play collegiately for Central Connecticut State. “I’ve got to give it my all. I can’t go out on a loss.”
While Ayoub and Bowles led the way offensively, senior forward Tyler Wilson had a stellar defensive game for Woodson, helping limit Battlefield first-team all-region guard Kameron Hedgepeth to seven points.
“Coach told me I was going to guard him yesterday or the day before,” Wilson said. “… I came in knowing what my job was and that’s what I was focused on.”
Wilson, a three-year varsity contributor, also managed to score 12 points.
“Tyler Wilson did a tremendous job on Kameron Hedgepeth tonight,” Craig said. “… Tyler’s been kind of our unsung hero. He’s our leading rebounder, he’s very, very good defensively. He finishes around the basket, he can help handle the ball, [he can] pass the ball --- he’s kind of a matchup at the [power forward position that is tough for other teams].
“… He sacrifices a lot of [offensive] numbers for some other things to help our team win.”
Will he be matched up defensively with Westfield first-team all-region forward Tyler Scanlon on Saturday night?
“I guess everyone,” Craig said, “will have to buy a ticket and watch.”
Woodson, which improved its record to 19-8, has continued the program’s trend of overcoming postseason adversity. On Feb. 24, the top-seed Cavaliers lost to No. 7 South County 91-86 in triple overtime in the Conference 7 championship game. It’s the third straight year the Cavaliers failed to win a district/conference title, yet managed to reach the region final.
In 2013, Woodson lost in the district semifinals. After reaching the region championship game, the Cavaliers overcame a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Wakefield in overtime.
In 2014, Woodson lost to Lake Braddock by one point in the conference final, giving the Cavaliers three losses to the Bruins by a combined eight points that season. Woodson won a fourth meeting with Lake Braddock in the region final.
The Cavaliers’ last two seasons ended in the state semifinals (Woodson won a game at states in 2013, when eight teams qualified).
“I feel like we have a better chance at winning states this year,” said Ayoub, who played his freshman year at Paul VI before transferring to Woodson as a sophomore last year. “I just feel like we know each other a lot better because we’ve been together longer.”
On Saturday, Woodson will face a Westfield team that is 25-1 and has won 23 consecutive games. Despite a dominant record and a Conference 5 championship, the Bulldogs won their first three region tournament games by a combined eight points, including a 57-54 victory over Fairfax in Wednesday’s semifinals.
Westfield is led by a pair of first-team all-region selections in Scanlon, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, and junior point guard Blake Francis.
“Having all the experience is invaluable,” Wilson said. “Three straight years we’ve been in big games like this and we’re really good at keeping our cool.”