George Mason High School’s boys varsity basketball team started off their season with a three-game win streak after beating two Bull Run District opponents over the past week. Mason’s Mustangs (3-0, 3-0) beat Manassas Park High School in a 70-20 blowout last Thursday and handily beat William Monroe High School 45-34 on Tuesday.
Mason utilized a full-court press early on to jump out ahead of the Manassas Park Cougars (1-2, 0-1) as a packed house watched during their home opener.
“We used pressure defense pretty effectively to beat Park,” said Mason head coach Chris Capannola. “They don’t handle it very well and they don’t have a true post player so we were able to press up on them, force a lot of turnovers and get some easy baskets.”
The Mustangs are known for making teams prove they can break their full-court press before retreating back into a half-court defense. Capannola said that using the press gives Mason a psychological advantage over their opponents.
“We are one of the few if not the only team that presses in the Bull Run, so that’s a huge advantage for us. We press every day in practice and feel that even if we don’t get steals out of it, the press makes opposing guards uncomfortable and causes poor decisions,” Capannola said.
“If other teams don’t press, it’s hard to work on pressing in practice, so we have an advantage there. The more we press the more we need the bench guys to contribute because it’s very tiring. Luckily, we are pretty deep this year.”
Capannola said his Mustangs exploited the Cougars’ 2-3 zone, knocking down nine 3-pointers in the process. “When they came out to guard shooters, we were able to score underneath,” he said.
Junior forward Robert Tartt led the Mustangs with 15 points against the Cougars and junior guard Josh Allen added 11 points. Junior guard Devin Thomas scored ten points and had six assists and senior guard Sam Selby had five assists in the game.
As a team the Mustangs shared the ball and maintained possession against the Cougars – they had 20 assists on 27 field goals and only 11 turnovers in game.
Capannola said Mason’s defeat of the William Monroe Dragons (4-2, 2-1), who beat the first two opponents they hosted by a combined 47 points, on their home court was “huge.” He said the Mustangs clamped down on them defensively from the opening tip.
“To only allow that team 32 points on their home floor was not something I expected,” Capannola said.
“But the kids played so hard. It was a pleasure to watch as a coach, if not as a fan, because there was some pretty ugly offense from both sides in the game.”
Nine Mustangs scored, though none of them scored in double digits, on a night when neither team scored over 50 points. Junior guard Elliot Mercado lead the Mustangs in scoring against the Dragons with nine points, followed by junior center Douglas Bossart with eight points. Selby and fellow junior guard D’Montae Noble both scored six points.
Capannola said Mason beat William Monroe because they outworked them, “plain and simple.” “They have a dominant post player in reigning Bull Run District Player of the Year Jeff Early, and he was our focus. We harassed him all night with double teams,” Capannola said.
“Also, our ball pressure was outstanding. We didn’t let them get into their set plays. Credit for that went to all our guards, but mainly Devin Thomas and D’Montae Noble. They worked their tails off guarding the ball.”
Capannola responded to the News-Press’ requests for comments on his team’s progress on Wednesday morning, hours after his team returned to Falls Church at 12:15 a.m. after the win over William Monroe extended their record to 3-0. He said he was “exhausted but thrilled,” with his team’s strong start.
“Being 3-0 is great, no other way to say it. But I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface yet. We aren’t very good on offense, we are too robotic at the moment, but I am hoping last night sold the kids on how important defense is,” he said.
“You can be a bit out of sync on offense but if you can defend as passionately as we did last night, you are never out of a game. The offense will come, we are pretty talented there, but it takes time.”
The Mustangs host Central High School tonight before facing Luray High School on the road tomorrow night – two teams with totally different styles.
“Central plays man-to-man and Luray uses an extended 2-3 zone that traps, so that will be a challenge to prepare for,” Capannola said.
Capannola said his team needs to improve offensively, a lot. “We have the talent for sure, but we aren’t sure what to look for right now and when to drive and when to pass and when to feed the post. It comes with experience and success. We need to take what the defense gives us and exploit it right now, not after three dribbles,” Capannola said.
“Once we get there, we are going to be tough to stop because our transition offense is pretty good with guys willing to run the floor and fill lanes.”
Capannola said the Mustangs need to avoid a letdown after the big win against William Monroe, but hopes that the hot start to the season will help them notch two more wins this week.
He said that focus and fighting the fatigue that comes with getting back late from a road win and playing back-to-back games.
The Mustangs face Rappahannock County High School next Tuesday on the road.