Rams handle pressure against Mustangs

By Jeff Nations

STRASBURG — It’s been a long road to recovery for Strasburg High School senior Jonathan Kloosterman, and he’s probably not quite at the end of it yet.

Kloosterman, who suffered a fractured fibula early in the football season that cost him the rest of that campaign, just got back on the basketball floor for the Rams earlier this week. He was out there again on Thursday night against George Mason, and it was evident what a difference the 6-foot-3 forward can make. Kloosterman provided a steady scoring presence and consistent rebounding to finish with a double-double to help lead the Rams to a 62-57 win over Bull Run District rival George Mason.

Strasburg coach Matt Hiserman only played Kloosterman about 10 minutes in Tuesday’s road win against Manassas Park, and he wasn’t planning on upping that floor time too much against the Mustangs. Plans can change.

“He makes a huge difference,” Hiserman said. “We probably used him more than we wanted to tonight. I have to keep asking him, ‘Are you OK?’ He’ll tell you yeah, but we kind of watched him there a couple times and pulled him when we saw he was getting tired and his leg was bothering him a little bit.”

Strasburg (3-2 overall, 3-1 Bull Run) expected to feel the heat of the Mustangs’ constant pressure defense. The Mustangs came out trying to harass the Rams into mistakes, but Strasburg’s backcourt largely handled that pressure with ease. Strasburg turned the ball over just 18 times, and drew a slew of fouls to earn trips to the free-throw line.

“It starts on defense, and our press wasn’t worth a darn tonight,” George Mason coach Chris Capannola said. “Ten fouls in the first quarter is unheard of. We’re not moving our feet — our fastest guys are getting beaten by their slow guys. You can’t come off the bus like that and just expect things to happen.”

Behind Ryan Smoot’s nine points in the first quarter, the Rams built a 15-11 lead by the end of that period.

George Mason (3-2, 3-2 Bull Run) rallied thanks to a spark from reserve George deMars, who came off the bench to score 12 points in the second quarter. His two made free throws with 2:10 left in the half put the Mustangs up four, but Tyler Doman’s jumper and a bucket inside by Kloosterman tied it up with 36 seconds to play. The Mustangs grabbed a slim two-point lead heading into the break on James Coppock’s offensive stickback.

The Mustangs extended their lead to six points on D’Montae Noble’s 3-pointer late in the third quarter, but Strasburg’s Noah St. Clair answered with a trey with 25 seconds to play and then came up with a steal on the other end of the floor. St. Clair flung the ball downcourt to Smoot, who sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the game at 40.

It was a strong all-around game for St. Clair, who finished with nine points, was a key press-breaker along with Doman and Ian Butler, and played solid defense against the explosive Noble.

“Noah’s a kid we’ve got to get out there and put on the other teams’ best ball handlers,” Hiserman said. “We told Noah, ‘Hey, keep him in front of you.'”

Strasburg grabbed the lead for good on Matthew Clutter’s traditional three-point play with 3:47 to go, as his made free throw put the Rams up 47-46. Smoot (game-high 18 points) added a pair of free throws, and Doman drilled a crucial 3-pointer from the corner to put Strasburg up 52-47 with 2:33 to go. From there, the Mustangs had to foul and the Rams made 6 of 8 free throws down the stretch. Kloosterman had four of them, and also added a pair of field goals to help seal the win. He finished the night with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

“Toward the end it was starting to hurt a little bit, but I just had to battle through,” Kloosterman said. “This was a big win for us, and I needed to be in there to help them out.”

Capannola had heard Kloosterman was back, and the Mustangs were focused on stopping him. The strong play by Strasburg’s backcourt came as something of a surprise.

“Even if we don’t get a steal in the press, it forces a quick shot, a bad shot and we come back the other way,” Capannola said. “Not tonight. They shredded it and we were two steps late and they’re getting layups. We generated absolutely nothing off our defense other than points for them, and you don’t win that way.”

For George Mason, deMars finished with 14 points.

Doman added 17 for the Rams.

“I thought we did a very good job against the pressure,” Hiserman said. “They like to press a lot, and I thought we did a good job there. We have some post players that can handle the ball a little bit, which makes other teams’ post players come guard you. That helps us. Our guards did a really good job — Noah St. Clair, Tyler Doman, Ian Butler coming off the bench — those guys did a really good job handling the pressure tonight.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>