George Mason High School’s boys basketball team’s three-game win streak screeched to a halt in a 64-51 loss to Manassas Park High School last Friday.
The Mustangs (3-2) just didn’t look like themselves on Dec. 14 against the Cougars. Two fast, athletic and evenly sized teams were squaring up with one another, but only one of them — the visitors — seemed to be in its element on the court. It led to Mason relying on Manassas Park’s lack of discipline to keep the game close; when the Cougars did tighten up, the game got away from the Mustangs.
“We kind of fell into their game. We got pushed out to half court in our offense and just didn’t execute or hit easy buckets like we usually try to do,” senior guard Max Ashton said. Mason head coach Chris Capannola had a rawer take on what took place last Friday. “We didn’t play much basketball at all. We let them dictate every single thing. We practiced for four days this week — not one minute of practice looked like that. We looked like deer in the headlights, but for some reason, it was three and a half quarters of that.”
That half a quarter where Mason did seem to find their groove was coming out of halftime. Following a first half where the Mustangs scored one field goal inside the paint — a putback by senior forward Hollman Smith after senior guard Jay Nesson’s drive was fruitless — Mason hastily established a presence inside when Smith found a cutting Ashton for an easy two. The bucket cut the Cougars’ lead to 29-25, with an Ashton drive, an elbow three from sophomore guard Robert Asel and fastbreak layup by Smith to tie the game at 32 apiece minutes later was Mason’s high point of the night.
But the game quickly deteriorated back into the erratic tendencies of the first half from there. The Mustangs were only able to hang with Manassas Park to start the game because of hot shooting from beyond the arc, where four different players hit three’s in a 15-12 first quarter that Mason led by the end. Any time the Mustangs drove the lane, however, they often did so with little rhyme or reason, attempting to weave through the Cougars’ length single-handedly and force a tough shot. It led to a lot of turnovers that, luckily, weren’t capitalized on earlier because of Manassas Park’s own problems on the offensive end.
The game’s flow kept Mason in an awkward spot. They never trailed by more than six points until the game’s closing minutes, so the approach appeared to keep them in it. But they weren’t using an effective enough strategy to put them over the top. Ashton’s three-pointer to start the fourth quarter gave the Mustangs their final lead at 41-39. When Mason scored next on Nesson’s baseline floater, the Cougars held a 46-43 advantage. The visitors found their groove after Nesson’s bucket and went on an 8-0 run that was a gut punch to the Mustangs’ morale and put the game out of reach with just over two minutes to play.
“It’s a non-league game. But if we want to do anything in the [Region B tournament] this is what we’re going to have to face so we’re going to have to be a lot better.” Capannola added.
The Mustangs will host Washington-Lee High School tonight.