Early returns are promising for George Mason High School boys basketball team’s shift in defensive philosophy, which spearheaded a 78-26 home win over Brentsville District High School on Nov. 30 and built momentum toward a 60-51 overtime win over Broad Run High School Tuesday night.
The Mustangs (2-1) appear to be buying into head coach Chris Capannola’s new approach. Rather than give their opponents half the court to bring the ball up, Mason’s switch to the full court press is meant to make use of their homogenized roster and mask their lack of height. Against Brentsville District, the plan worked; of the 64 points the Mustangs’ starters were responsible for, over 40 of them were spurred by defensive pressure. It’s a good sign that Capannola’s new wrinkle has survived two games since it only took two games last year for him to scrap the adjustment altogether.
“This is a really athletic team, so we’re doing a fantastic job with [the press] so far. If we’re riding up all over these guys I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to stop it,” senior guard Jay Nesson said.
A straightaway triple from the Tigers to open the game spelled concern only briefly. Senior forward Hollman Smith responded by knocking down a pair at the line and senior guard Max Ashton drove and dished to junior forward Daniel Miller for a bucket the following possession.
It was barely three minutes in and Mason wouldn’t trail again for the remainder of the contest.
The Mustangs’ energy on the press factored into the next 15 points they scored in the first quarter to take a 19-12 lead into the second frame. That trend continued when senior guard Connor Fletchall’s steal to spoil Brentsville District’s first possession of the quarter ended with him kicking the rock out to Ashton for a three-pointer.
Mason’s players took turns either baiting the Tigers into offensive fouls and violations or forcing turnovers outright by jumping passing lanes and batting away soft dribbles to generate points on the fast break. If it wasn’t for a late triple from Brentsville District the Mustangs would’ve held the visitors scoreless for the entire second quarter, but merely settled for a 21-3 advantage going into halftime.
The Falls Church players maintained their stride even after the intermission by accruing a 49-point cushion before starters were pulled at 64-15. With the starters in the third quarter, Mason was able to hold Brentsville District scoreless. Continuing the press is a necessary ingredient for success.
“We don’t have a true big, so we have to play the full length of the court,” Capannola said. “That’s the only way we’re going to be in games against teams with good posts.”
On the road Tuesday night, Mason was able to escape with a victory. Trailing 20-17 at the half, the Mustangs’ took a one-point lead into the fourth but needed Smith to hit a buzzer-beating lay-up to push the game into overtime. A 7-0 run to start the extra period all but settled the outcome in Mason’s favor.
The Mustangs are home on tomorrow to host Loudoun County High School before getting a week-long break before their next game, also at home, against Manassas Park High School on Dec. 14.