By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Massanutten Academy's boys basketball team had a goal in mind for Tuesday's rematch against Stuart Hall.
In the first meeting, the Dragons raced out to a 20-point lead to open the game put Massanutten away early. Colonels coach Ryan Dowler thought if his team could avoid that initial onslaught, it might be a much different outcome in Massanutten's home gym.
Instead, Stuart Hall junior point guard Adam Pickett nearly duplicated that feat all by himself as he outscored the Colonels 14-2 in the opening four minutes to boost the Dragons to another big early lead en route to a 73-43 victory.
"That's one of the things that we talk about with teams that we've either played before and beaten, or teams that we want to beat, is making that statement in the first four minutes because it puts a team in a hole," Stuart Hall coach Sean Crocker said. "I think last time it was 20-0 or something like that. Obviously it wasn't quite that much this time, but it's definitely something we focus on in the first four minutes is setting that tone."
Pickett torched Massanutten (3-4) throughout the first half, finishing with 37 of his game-high 39 points by halftime. After a couple minutes in the third quarter, Pickett's night was done and so were the Colonels.
"He's a guy that we're blessed to have and makes us tick to a good extent," Crocker said. "Trea [Lawrence] and Gio [Nadiradze], who are our other starting guards, kind of had off nights tonight. So he said, 'OK, someone's got to score.' He has that ability to do that."
Much of Pickett's early scoring output came off his defense, as he spearheaded a trapping press that forced nine first-quarter turnovers and 11 more in the second quarter.
"Too many turnovers led to easy baskets," Colonels coach Ryan Dowler said. "We haven't done that since we played them the very first game. (a 68-32 loss on Nov. 14) We haven't turnovers like that that cost us. They just play good defense. They have their hands up, and when we throw those lob passes they're good at closing out and getting steals."
Down 16-2 after yet another Pickett layup, Massanutten stirred with back-to-back baskets by Zachary Siegel. Later in the first quarter, Joshua Holt's two made free throws got the deficit back to single digits at 20-11.
After scoring 18 first-quarter points, Pickett topped it with 19 in the second period to help the Dragons pull away for good. A junior who transferred in from Maryland's powerhouse Montrose Christian School to be closer to his hometown of Lovingston in Nelson County, Pickett showed why he's already received an offer from VMI and is garnering interest from other mid-major programs despite playing for a small school like Stuart Hall (9-1). Pickett came into the game averaging 30 points an outing this season.
"It's pretty good, it's not going bad at all," Pickett said. "Of course the competition level is different from last year, with me playing at Montrose Christian, but it's not bad at all. I like it a lot."
Pickett, the Dragons' team captain, even mixed in a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter between dunks (he had six in all) as Stuart Hall built a commanding 49-20 halftime lead.
"He's got potential at the next level," Dowler said. "I mean, he's a good player. I wish him the best."
In the third quarter, Pickett had his only lapse of the night when he missed another open dunk.
"See, what happened was I thought he was going to undercut me because I heard him behind me," the 6-foot-1 Pickett said. "Then he like barely tapped my leg. I didn't want to get undercut."
Lawrence added 12 points for the Dragons. Pickett chipped in nine rebounds and at least that many steals.
Holt finished with 11 points to lead the Colonels. Derik Duklis came off the bench to add 10 points and six rebounds, all in the second half.
"We just need more drive," Dowler said. "We just need more wanting to win, I guess."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>