‘Hockey Assists’ Aid Mustang Wins

DEFENSE HAS DEFINITELY IMPROVED during Mason’s January hot streak, but so has the Mustangs’ eagerness to make the extra pass on offense. (Photo: Carol Sly)

With wins over Park View High School and Central High School, George Mason High School’s boys basketball team has stayed hot even as the temperature drops to single-digits.

Flipping the calendar to a new year has a strange effect on us humans. While there’s little difference in the day-to-day minutiae, we adjust our mindsets toward life, and somehow, breathe new results into our realities. For example, look no further than the Mustangs (12-7). After some thrilling highs and chilling lows in December, Mason’s leveled out and played its best basketball in January, winning eight of its last nine games and preserving its perfect Bull Run District record. The season-long gelling process seems to be near-complete, and its progress was sped along by a growing foresight on the offensive end.

“Defense has been much better, we’re pushing the pace and we’re making shots – obviously that helps – but they’re really looking for each other,” Mason head coach Chris Capannola said. “I always talk about ‘hockey assists.’ I’m not sure they bought into that for a while. They either wanted to score or wanted to be the primary assist. As soon as we figure out that moving the ball to someone who makes a primary assist is just as good as an assist, we’ve been better for it.”

Monday night’s home game against Park View wasn’t a 32-minute epic the way some games have been for Mason. But it showed that, despite the easier competition, the Mustangs were still dedicated to their team-centric approach even when chances to show off their individual talents presented itself.

Crisp ball movement was why senior guard Max Ashton was able to get open and drain four three’s in the first quarter. And it’s why he was able to return the favor with a few clever dishes himself, such a drive and kick-out to senior forward Scott Graffam for a corner three of his own.

Up 22-6 heading into the second quarter, Mason kept the pass-heavy pressure up. Sophomore guard Ryan Fletchall found fellow sophomore guard Deven Martino for a quick two inside to open up, and was followed by sophomore guard Robert Asel’s assist to junior forward Daniel Miller down low. Ashton connected with senior forward Hollman Smith for a straightaway trey and the pairing found each other again the next possession when Ashton setup Smith’s three-point play. A 48-14 halftime lead made the second half a mere formality, ending with a 72-33 final score.

Last Friday’s road win over Central was pivotal one for Mason. Trailing 45-40 heading into the fourth quarter, the Mustangs knew they faced a challenge not only on the court, but in a raucous home crowd of Woodstock, Va locals. They responded with a 25-point explosion to the Falcons’ 12 to secure a 65-57 win. It was a sharp turnaround that was punctuated by a sequence of big shots by Mason.

“We hit a couple big threes. I hit one in the corner, [Ashton] hit one and [senior forward Seid Lejlic] hit a three and it just changed the momentum of the game and took them out of it,” senior guard Jay Nesson said.

Mason is on the road at Madison County High School on Friday.