Varsity Basketball Dispatches King in FAA Quarterfinal

The den was packed, the energy was palpable, and The Masters School’s varsity boys basketball squad delivered on the promise it has shown all season.

The No. 3-seeded Panthers — hosting their first Fairchester Athletic Association playoff game in nine years — dispatched No. 6-seeded King, 65-51, in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday evening at the Fonseca Center. Masters will travel to face No. 2-seeded Greenwich Country Day School (GCDS) in the semifinal on Thursday, February 22, at 5:30 p.m.

“It means a lot,” co-captain Adam Bello ’24 said. “We’ve been working for this all year. This is a very emotional game, but we expected this. (King) is the sixth seed and we’re the third seed. We played them before and beat them before, and now we’re onto the next one.”

Bello did it all for the Panthers, showcasing his skill, savvy and toughness on both ends of the court. He totaled a game-high 21 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, notched two steals, two blocks and two assists. 

“Adam and I have been through a lot in these two years,” head coach Joey Kuhl said. “He’s been through even more than I have before I got here. It’s a shame because I think if he got to play his freshman year, he’d be up in the rafters as a 1,000-point scorer. But to be able to do this is awesome. I’m unbelievably proud of him.” (The 2020-2021 winter athletics season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Bello helped Masters wrest control of the game with nine minutes left in the opening half. He blocked a King 3-pointer on the defensive end and then drained one on the other end, sparking a furious 20-8 run to give the Panthers a commanding 35-21 lead at the half. 

“It means a lot for coach Kuhl and the staff to get their first playoff win,” Bello said. “It’s also the first playoff win for everyone on the team, so it’s big for all of us.”

Omari Levy ’26 (13 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 3 assists), Nathan Lothian ’24 (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists), Azzan Thomas ’25 (10 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal) and Jake Raab ’26 (9 points, 4 assists, 1 steal) all contributed for Masters, which flexed its muscles on defense. The 51 points scored were the second fewest by King in an FAA game this season. The Vikings entered the night averaging 64 points per game vs. league opponents. 

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“That was a really, really good team that we had to play against, so credit to our guys,” Kuhl said. “They played defense at the level we needed to get a win against a really talented King team.”

Lothian, a hard-working co-captain, typified the gritty defensive effort. He was a constant thorn in King’s side, diving for loose balls, contesting every shot, jumping into passing lanes and fighting feverishly for rebounds. 

“(Lothian) was unbelievable,” Kuhl said. “We missed him (due to injury) our first four games (of the season) and it’s not a surprise that we got off to a 2-4 start as he was working back. He’s that rock for us defensively. And that’s just the basketball stuff. As a young man, he’s exceptional and impacts our culture — in particular, the young guys. He’s so good about being a leader for them and they know he’s available for them.”

Bello and Lothian have both been instrumental in Masters’ resurgence on the hardwood this season. The Panthers' 12 wins this year are more than they recorded the previous two years combined. 

“Our senior captains have set the tone all year with their leadership off the court,” Kuhl said. “But to have moments like (tonight) on the court in front of the packed stands — that’s a special moment that hopefully they take with them.”

Masters will look to make some more unforgettable memories as it prepares to square off against GCDS in the semis. The Panthers lost the regular season meeting between the two teams, 58-44, back on February 6.

“We know what we’re going into,” Bello said of the impending showdown. “But we also know our culture and what we stand for. We are going to continue to show that.”

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