Sterling, Va. — The Dominion Titans are coming. After a 57-44 win over the Woodgrove Wolverines and another victory against Park View, the Titan boys basketball team is first in the Dulles District, sitting at 4-0 in district and 7-6 overall.
A slightly above .500 record may not seem like much, but there are certain factors that need to be examined. The Titans played a brutal early schedule, with two losses against perennial powerhouse Potomac Falls, one loss each against 5A teams Stone Bridge and Freedom, and two losses against undefeated Millbrook, one of which was decided in the last minute.
That first loss against the Millbrook Pioneers wasn’t a genuine one either, as the Titans were missing two of their top guards in juniors Max Mancuso and Adam Thomas, and their starting center, Michael Discher.
The second loss against Potomac Falls dropped Dominion to 1-5, but since then, something switched. Back-to-back buzzer-beater wins in the district over Heritage and Loudoun County gave them confidence heading into the Joe Cascio tournament. There, they went 2-1, beating Falls Church and George Mason after opening the tournament with the loss to Freedom.
That brings us to January 2 when the Titans had a huge match up against the Woodgrove Wolverines.
Big matchup here, if Dominion wins they’ll be 3-0 in the district including two over County and Woodgrove pic.twitter.com/hFCsj4BpcE
— Varun Shankar (@ByVarunShankar) January 3, 2019
Defensive Plays and Sloppy Turnovers
At the end of the quarter, the score was 8-7, in favor of Dominion. The Titans never got into a rhythm offensively, missing multiple open shots, but the true story of the game came down to turnovers.
Both teams ran aggressive defensive schemes: Woodgrove with a 2-3 zone and Dominion with a man-man system. Woodgrove had some success, as they forced some Dominion turnovers and kept the Titans under 45% shooting from the field, but Dominion was able to exploit that zone with good offensive play (more on that in a bit).
Back to the Titan defense. They’ve made a concerted effort to get in passing lanes and force turnovers and it showed today. Junior guards Jayden Hickey and Adam Thomas combined for 10 of the team’s 15 steals. They were hounding the Woodgrove guards all night, using their length and athleticism to jump passing lanes.
What separated Dominion from Woodgrove was their ability to turn that defense into offense. Multiple times, those steals led to open layups or two-on-ones that the Titans converted. They got easy offense, which helped a lot because their half court offense wasn’t great.
For the game, Dominion only shot 43% overall, and only 24% from three-point range. They didn’t play great offensively. But their defense, well their defense won them this game. There was a collective effort to envelop all ball-carriers and it worked, giving them this win.
There are some players, where you watch them, and they just stand out. Dominion junior Sam Shelton is of those players. He’s fast, but more importantly, he’s quick. The difference is simple: being fast means he’s good over longer distances but being quick means he’s great in short bursts.
His ability to change direction is second-to-none and allows him to get right to the rim. When he gets there? Well, he’s a spectacular finisher with either hand. He’s got a special ability to control his body, contorting it to protect the ball when getting to the rim and to draw fouls.
Shelton scored a game-high 19 against Woodgrove and did so efficiently. He shot 57% in the game, and that’s with a 1-for-4 game from behind the arc.
He picked up his intensity on defense, getting a pair of steals. However, there’s no question that his biggest contribution comes when the Titans absolutely need a bucket. For example, at the end of the first half, he got an isolation where they cleared out the right side of the court and let Shelton put up a contested floater that went in. If they need a bucket, they’re looking for the junior combo guard.
On a team like Dominion, where there are so many options, it can be hard to pinpoint one player as the “best” player. I think I’m at the point where I can call Adam Thomas at least a top-2 player on the Titans, tied with Shelton.
He’s unquestionably the best on-ball defender on the team, probably the best in the district from what I’ve seen. He’s so long, with a wingspan that allows him to pick off passes and take them the other way.
He’s extremely athletic, with quick feet that allow him to match up with some of the best ball-handlers in the Dulles District and in Loudoun County. I’ve seen him match up against Potomac Falls guard Landon Hawes and Woodgrove guard Alex Owen, as he draws the toughest defensive assignment time after time.
His offensive game wasn’t great to start the year, but it’s picked up recently. In the win against Woodgrove, he scored 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including 2-for-4 from three-point range. I don’t know if he’s just become more comfortable with a new offense and new teammates after transferring from Paul VI or if the beginning of the year was just a slump, but he looks good now.
There was one play where he took an off-balance, mid-range shot that should’ve been a bad shot but went in, touching nothing but the bottom of the net.
He then had maybe the best play out of anyone on this Dominion team. Someone threw him a high pass and rather than catching it and trying to come down with it, he tapped it like a volleyball player over to his teammate for an easy layup.
That’s a play that only comes with confidence, and right now, Adam Thomas has it.
Senior big man Michael Discher didn’t have the start to the season he wanted. He struggled to score and had turnover issues, consistently losing the ball in the post. It wasn’t what the team expected from him and not what he expected from himself, but it looks like things are starting to turn around for him.
He came into this game with a tough match up, going up against Woodgrove junior forward Brock Redman. He absolutely dominated Redman. While he didn’t score a lot, with just 4 points, he was a monster on the boards, with 8 rebounds and numerous assertive box-outs. His points came on the boards as well, with two offensive rebounds leading to easy put backs in the third quarter.
Defensively, Discher was similarly dominant, with an emphatic rejection in the first quarter. However, that wasn’t representative of what he did throughout the game, as his biggest impact came when he didn’t get blocks.
That doesn’t make sense on first reading, so let me explain. Discher had a tendency in the past to hunt for blocks. While blocks themselves are good, he would jump in pursuit of the rejections, taking himself out of the play and allowing easy points inside.
He didn’t do that today. On one fast break, he was the lone defender against two Woodgrove players. He feigned towards the player without the ball, causing the one with the ball to move in for a layup. Then, Discher showed incredible closing speed, returning to the ball-handler and forcing a missed layup.
In the half court, he limited Redman to just 5 points, as he and junior backup big man Mark Schroeder both were exceptional in their play.
He may not score a lot, but that doesn’t mean he brings no value on offense. I’ve seen great improvement from him as a passer, he’s making great decisions, even running a pick and roll as the ball-handler at one point. If he gets back to the high-post threat he was last year, when he was nearly unstoppable at times, he becomes the secret key that Dominion head coach Anthony Eifler can pair with Shelton and Thomas as a dynamic third option.
This was a monumental win for the Titans. Both they and Woodgrove were 2-0 in the district, and since then, they’ve been going in opposite directions. Dominion won their next game against Park View while Woodgrove lost to Loudoun Valley on January 4.
Right now, Dominion is at the top of the Dulles District, sporting a 4-0 district record. They’ve got a huge match up with Loudoun Valley (2-0, 7-3) and another against scorching hot Riverside (2-0, 11-1) coming up. However, after going 6-1 in their last seven, they’ve got no shortage of confidence and should now be considered the favorites in the Dulles District.