The Bobby Forst era has opened with a rousing success, as the George Marshall High School boys varsity basketball team claimed the title of the Potomac Construction Tip-Off Tournament last weekend. The Statesmen first topped Falls Church High School 56-34 before edging Friendship Collegiate Academy in the championship, 62-60.
Facing a distinct height disadvantage against Friendship — whose frontcourt features two players over 6-foot-9 — Marshall packed in a zone defense and forced its opponent to make shots from the perimeter. The strategy paid off and gave Forst, who replaced former Marshall Head Coach Kevin Weeren, now the boys varsity head coach at Freedom High School, his second win in as many games. But it was a struggle from the start.
With the Statesmen trailing 23-12, Forst got the first taste of his team's character. Rather than rolling over against the arguably athletically superior Friendship players, Marshall chipped away, whittling the lead down to three by halftime.
“At that point I honestly thought, 'okay, what kind of team do we have here,'” Forst said. “To their credit they hung in there.”
They did more than that. In the second half, the Statesmen took the lead and ultimately won, largely behind the offensive efforts of sophomore guard Stanley Watts, who scored 21 points on the evening. Junior Daniel McClain battled among the taller Friendship players all night long and emerged with a team-high 15 rebounds.
“We asked a lot of people to play much bigger than they were,” Forst said. “We just wanted to limit their offensive rebounds. That's where they score a lot of their points.”
In the opener, Marshall (2-0) took control of an intense, if sloppy, game in the second half with seven unanswered points to open the third quarter and push a three-point lead to 10 at 34-24. The Jaguars, who had matched the Statesmen in effort and on the scoreboard for the first 15 minutes of the game, began to show some early-season slip ups.
As Marshall made its seven point run, Falls Church turned the ball over twice to start the third quarter, and repeated the feat to start the fourth. The Jaguars closed the gap back to five with 3:30 left in the game when junior JJ Dowdy spun to the hoop for a layup while drawing a foul. After converting the free throw the score stood at 39-34, but consecutive three pointers by Marshall seniors Nate Whittington and Daniel Blakely ignited a 13-0 run that sealed the fate of Falls Church.
Despite the late scoring outburst, Forst credited his first win as a varsity head coach to his team's defense.
“We really stressed our man to man and that kept us in the game,” said Forst, who came to Marshall after serving as an assistant on the boys varsity team and head JV coach at Centreville High School last year. “We held them to 12 points in the second half. Any time you can do that you should win.”
The defensive effort was led by the Statesmen backcourt of Nate and Bryan Whittington, who combined for 11 steals and 26 points in the game. Blakely, who celebrated his birthday last Friday, added eight points.
Sophomore Daniel McClain held down the frontcourt defense for the Statesmen, recording five rebounds and three blocks against a formidable front line for Falls Church.
Dowdy led the Jaguars with 14 points, while senior Winston Veney and junior Evan Hansen contributed seven and six points respectively.
Marshall next faces Princeton Claremont at home next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., while Falls Church tips off next against Centreville on the road this Friday, Dec. 7.