Younger faces take on bigger roles both on and off the court for George Mason High School’s boys basketball team as it started its season with a 55-43 loss over Independence High School and, coincidentally, a 55-43 win over Park View High School.
“We have a team of nine newcomers and the four returners are all in new roles so essentially we are starting anew,” Mason’s first-year head coach Michael Gilroy said. “We have talked about how this is going to be a process, each game will be a battle and I don’t expect to blow anyone out. We just need to keep working in practice, learn from the good and bad, and hope that come mid-January that we are starting to peak and play our best ball.”
The novelty of the season with new responsibilities was apparent in the Mustangs’ (1-1) season opener against new Class 3 opponent Independence.
Though Mason was able to stay even with the Tigers throughout much of the first half — despite junior guard Bobby Asel spending some time on the bench due to foul trouble — junior guard Deven Martino’s empty-handed trip to the free throw line followed by a quick bucket on the other end by the hosts had the Mustangs trailing 25-21 by halftime.
A 7-0 sprint from Mason opened up the third quarter reclaim the lead; however, the Falls Church locals would find themselves down one heading into the fourth quarter. It was there that the Mustangs got away from their game by becoming trigger-happy from beyond the arc. Mason failed to sink any of those shots while Independence ripped off nine straight points, which safely knocked the Mustangs out of contest.
“Our effort and energy from warm-ups to the game was where we needed it to be,” Gilroy said. “Our IQ and ability to execute on both sides of the ball was not.”
A sluggish start had Mason playing flat-footed against Park View on Friday. It didn’t help that offense possessions were few and far between either. But even after a less-than-ideal entrance into the game, the Mustangs were down only three at 22-19 by halftime. Still, Gilroy and his coaching staff challenged the team to kick it into high gear come the third quarter, which clearly resonated with Mason.
The game seemed to turn when the Mustangs passed out of Park View’s attempt to trap them toward the end of the third quarter and led to an exclamation point of a dunk from varsity newcomer Ben Yimaj. It was the program’s first jam in two years and the spark carried Mason across the finish line in the final frame.
Asel led the way with 21 points and five rebounds and got a nod from Gilroy for his aggressive play all night.
Senior forward Daniel Miller also patrolled the boards while getting key buckets and assists as well.
The only knock from the win was a weak showing at the line, where the Mustangs went 14-23.
They looked to clean that up in the team’s home opener against Manassas Park High School last night, though results weren’t available by press time.