Sterling, Va. — The Dominion High School boys basketball team has had issues this season stepping up to the moment. In the biggest games – one against Loudoun Valley, another against Loudoun County , and two against Potomac Falls – they came up short, unable to rise to the occasion.
Not anymore. The Titans rose to the moment on a rainy February 6 against the Loudoun Valley Vikings, coming away with a 48-35 victory that put them in second place in the Dulles District.
“It feels great because everyone was saying that they’re one of the best in the county, that they’re better than us,” Dominion senior guard Sam Shelton said. “They’re not better than us. We can beat them anytime.”
They did it with a defense that confounded the powerful Loudoun Valley attack and some timely shooting from their two creators, a combination that hopes to lend them well.
Switch It Up
Earlier this year, the Titans got their first win of the season by switching to a 3-2 zone against the Briar Woods Falcons. Against the Vikings, they played a hybrid match-up zone.
The scheme has the basic principles of a 3-2 zone but involves a great deal of switching, making it similar to a pattern-match scheme from football. Dominion switched every screen and bothered every cutter, and above all, they confused the Loudoun Valley point guard, senior Trent Dawson.
On the first possession of the game, Dawson took the ball up, looked at the Dominion alignment, and turned right back to his father and coach, Chad Dawson.
The possession ended with a turnover, one of many on the night for the Vikings. Dawson – a normally consistent scorer – was limited to single digits for the first time all year as he finished with 4 points on 1-of-6 shooting.
“Tonight was the first time that it really clicked,” Eifler said. “We’ve been getting on them in practice. We’ve been watching a lot of film. We’ve been filming our practice to show them things. I think as we get more reps in that system, they’ve just really bought into it.”
Dominion’s struggles with preventing dribble penetration led the coaching staff – mainly assistant coach Mike Zito – to come up with the scheme, one that let them play to their strengths of reading passing lanes and playing off-the-ball with great aggression.
Who needs scoring anyway?
Dominion still has some issues offensively (they shot 16-of-42 from the field; for my number crunchers at home that’s 38%) but they make timely shots. Two of their premier shot-creators are seniors Max Mancuso and Sam Shelton.
Mancuso – a shooting guard/small forward hybrid – is a streaky shooter. There’s absolutely no hesitation from him to take any shot, which is good and bad, depending on what kind of streak he’s on. In this game, he shot 4-of-13 and scored 13 points, but those were an important 13 points. He toes the line between aggressiveness and foolhardiness with every shot attempt, occasionally stumbling over, but there are moments where the threat of his shot from deep is the most effective shot for this Titan team.
Mancuso was also the primary defender on Dawson for a lot of the night, doing a great job deterring his various attempts to try and score.
His running mate in the backcourt, Shelton, is very different. He’s a pure slasher, pushing in transition and trying to score, and he similarly had a tough shooting night, only going 3-of-10. However, he got to the line six times, scoring four points from the charity stripe and ending with 10 points.
It’s an offense that will struggle, but they can manufacture some points from the Mancuso hot streaks and Shelton free throws. They have some role players who can hit huge shots: think junior center Justin Mann, who shot 4-of-5, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc, and added one huge dunk to seal the game.
They aren’t a great offense, and won’t be for the rest of the season. They’re currently averaging 60 points per game, which puts them at ninth in the county in a field of 16. However, right now they’re the third best defense in the county – allowing just 53.68 points per game – and that’s where they’re going to excel as the season continues, playing a gritty, tough-it-out kind of game that may not be aesthetically pleasing but will continue to generate wins.
Tough Week for Loudoun Valley
Let’s give Loudoun Valley a bit of a break. They’d been coming off an extremely emotional game against Loudoun County just the night before, spending back to back nights on the road. The Vikings were tired, and it showed.
“I was definitely beat up from last game,” Trent Dawson said. “That carried over to today’s game.”
That doesn’t discredit what Dominion did, as they were a bit banged up as well. Dominion senior starting forward Adam Thomas was limited with a groin injury that Eifler hopes is cleared up soon.
Vikings’ Secondary Scoring Challenges
Trent Dawson is good. One of the best point guards, playmakers, and scorers in Loudoun County. But it seems like the guard may be wearing down because the Vikings don’t have much in the way of secondary creation.
In their loss to Loudoun County on February 5, the Vikings scored 45 points, credit 20 of those to Dawson. Just five nights before, the Vikings got some additional production from senior guards Avery Nance and Umayr Obaid, but like with Dominion, that secondary scoring can be streaky.
Dominion (8-2, 14-5) moves into the second spot in the Dulles District after their win. They’ll have a huge matchup against Loudoun County on February 11: a win gives them a shot at contending for the regular season crown, while a loss locks up the No. 1 seed for the Raiders. Loudoun Valley (7-3, 15-6) is reeling just a little bit after three losses in their last four, but they’ll have an easier task as they’ll go to Heritage to take on the Pride on the same date.