A week off from school but not sport saw George Mason High School’s boys basketball team go 2-1 in the Joe Cascio Holiday Classic with a third-place winning victory over Fairfax Home School, 79-74.
In their other matches, Mason (5-6) defeated Lee High School in the opening round, 59-46, but suffered a big 62-41 loss to Rock Ridge High School in the tournament semifinal.
The Mustangs have continued to ride the early season’s roller coaster, showing up in spades for some games and forgetting to tie their shoes in others. The showing at the Holiday Classic was no different as Mason steamrolled a lesser opponent (Lee), wilted to a lengthy, athletic opponent (Rock Ridge) and turned what should’ve been a blowout into a hair-raising finale (Fairfax).
If there was ever a time to take a bad loss and learn from it, the final out-of-conference game against Fairfax before league play begins this week appeared to be that time.
But Mason head coach Chris Capannola was bullish on needing the win, and didn’t let the team’s flirtation with a collapse color his postgame comments.
“I was nothing but positive in the locker room,” Capannola said. “We gutted it out when we could’ve folded, but we held on and I was really proud of the guys for that.”
Mason stormed out to an early 22-10 lead by the end of the first quarter and took a 48-29 lead into halftime following typical strong showings from scoring leaders junior guard Max Ashton, junior forward Hollman Smith and senior guard Anish Chatterjee.
However, the trio also received big contributions from junior guard Jay Nesson off the bench, who put up 11 of his 13 points in the first half, including three treys that helped establish the Mustangs’ offensive rhythm early on.
By the start of the third quarter it became clear the Mustangs relaxed. Senior forward Thomas Creed notched two quick buckets, but the Hawks responded with an 18-8 run to end the period within striking distance at 60-52.
An inspired Fairfax squad began making their shots from all over the court and threatening to usurp Mason’s lead. That was until Ashton asserted himself and was responsible for either scoring or assisting in 12 of the team’s final 19 points to hold off the Hawks, despite losing the battle on the boards.
“When you get shoved under the basket and don’t shove back, that’s what happens. I think we just expected [Fairfax] to back down and there was no back down in them,” Capannola added, saying that he needed to shift the focus of practices from it’s current state of more technical refinement to making sure his players are reminded of how to be physical. “There may be some bumps, bruises, nicks and guys falling to the ground, but we’ll get tougher that’s for sure.”
The Mustangs matched Lee’s intensity throughout their tournament opener, leading 24-19 at the half and 37-34 going into the third quarter. At the start of the final frame Mason turned up the heat and outscored the Lancers 22-12 to seal a handy win.
Against Rock Ridge, the Mustangs appeared evenly matched for only the first quarter. Entering the second period tied at 11, the Phoenix outscored Mason 22-13 and slowly pecked at the team’s confidence. Reserves started the third quarter down 33-24 and were mostly helpless as Rock Ridge added another 17 points to the Mustangs’ seven to all but cement the loss for Mason.
The Mustangs host Rappahannock County High School tonight before hitting the road to play Strasburg High School next Tuesday, Jan. 9 in the opening of their Bull Run competition