By Jeff Nations
Trailing by two points less than three minutes into Tuesday night's Bull Run District contest against visiting Manassas Park, Strasburg boys basketball coach Millson French had seen enough.
Through clenched teeth, French demanded a full timeout.
Not a good sign for the Rams.
Despite sputtering at the start and staggering to the finish, French's Rams still managed to come away with a 54-52 overtime victory.
"That was about the only positive thing to come out of tonight," French said afterward.
Strasburg (7-1, 2-1 Bull Run) did regroup after a lethargic first half that saw the Rams trailing, 26-20, at halftime.
The Rams went to a zone to slow down the Cougars, and on offense Strasburg started making more of a concerted effort to find big man Jonathan Kloosterman inside.
"For whatever reason, we weren't ready to play and it showed on the defensive end, especially," French said. "And then I thought offensively we came out just jacking up shots. We had the advantage inside. Jonathan Kloosterman, he never even touched the ball in the first quarter. In my opinion, that's pretty bad basketball."
Getting Kloosterman involved -- the 6-foot-3 junior had just three points and one rebound in the first half -- was a big spark for the Rams. Kloosterman had 11 points over the final two quarters in regulation, then added five more in the overtime period to finish with 18.
Manassas Park (4-3, 1-2) nearly delivered a knockout blow early in the second half, opening play on a 7-0 run before Strasburg's Tommy Caison responded with a 3-pointer. After struggling against the Cougars' zone in the first half, Strasburg turned the tables with its zone. It didn't work at first, as 3-pointers by Manassas Park's Myles Durr and Derek Appleton helped the Cougars stretch their lead to 40-33 at the end of the third quarter.
The Rams kept chipping away, finally taking the lead on a Kloosterman offensive putback with 46 seconds to play. Kloosterman was also fouled on the play, but missed the free throw. That was an ominous sign for Strasburg, which missed six straight free throws over the final minute of regulation and three more in overtime.
Nasser Smith's driving layup tied the score with 18 seconds to play, Caison missed a pair of free throws on the other end, and Smith's off-balance jumper from the top of the key hit the back iron at the buzzer to force overtime.
"We came together, ran the offense, got the defense going," Caison said of Strasburg's second half. "It worked out better for us."
In overtime, Kloosterman's second basket of the period put the Rams up, 51-49. The score was the same with less than a minute to play when Strasburg's Tyler Doman took an inbounds pass from mid-court all the way to the goal for a pivotal layup.
Durr answered with another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one point with 27 seconds to play. Caison sank one of two free throws on Strasburg's ensuing possession, giving the Cougars a chance to tie or win. Durr popped free for a decent attempt from beyond the 3-point arc, but his shot again hit back iron before Kloosterman gobbled up the rebound to secure the win.
"We took some shots here and there that probably weren't the best quality, but we're shooters -- they're all shooters and we encourage them to shoot as much as they possibly can," Manassas Park coach George Bailey said. "I don't think we rebounded as well in the second half. That's probably what hurt us the most."
Kloosterman tallied a game-high 13 rebounds to finish with a double-double. Arkell Goring added 11 for the Rams. Strasburg outrebounded the Cougars, 41-32. That helped make up for a dismal free-throw shooting day (6 for 20).
LaQuan Gaines-Ward led the Cougars with 15 points and eight rebounds. Appleton chipped in 11 for Manassas Park.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>