By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg girls basketball coach Joel Morgan wasn't discouraged by what he saw from the Rams in a somewhat rocky first half against visiting George Mason on Thursday night.
Despite the fact that Strasburg had turned the ball over 15 times against an aggressive Mustangs defense and was solidly out-rebounded on both ends of the floor, the Rams found themselves trailing by just nine points to the Bull Run District leader at halftime.
But things unraveled quickly for the Rams, as George Mason held Strasburg scoreless in the third period en route to a 45-28 victory.
"We were competing with them for a good while. I felt pretty good about a lot of the things we were doing in the first half. But I mean ... you've got to score a little bit," Morgan said.
"Missing box-outs and things like that ... you've got to be more competitive. You've got to compete and do your job. We had some issues there, but I was not displeased so much with our effort. Our execution defensively at times was not very good. But the bottom line is you've got to put the ball in the basket."
Strasburg (10-8, 5-7 Bull Run) competed early with George Mason despite a dominating presence in the paint by the Mustangs in first half. George Mason junior forward Katherine Goodwin scored six points early to help the Mustangs to an 8-4 advantage, but Strasburg junior Emily Melnikoff nailed a 3-pointer to pull the Rams within a point with 2:15 to play in the first period.
George Mason (15-5, 13-1) then used an 11-2 run, capped by another bucket inside by Goodwin, to take a 19-9 lead with 4:20 left in the second period.
Goodwin, who proved to be a handful for Strasburg under the basket, finished with a game-high 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"She's a heckuva player, and when she's on her game it's hard to stop her," Mustangs coach LaBryan Thomas said of the 5-foot-11 Goodwin. "And she looks for her teammates. She does what she can when she can for herself, but she's a team player and if you're open, she's going to hit you."
The Rams managed to cut George Mason's lead back to double-digits when Melnikoff's stick-back made the score 23-14 going into halftime, but things worsened for Strasburg coming out of intermission.
Strasburg was outscored 12-0 in the third period while going 0 for 10 from the field in the frame to go along with five turnovers. Five different Mustangs scored in the quarter, as George Mason took a 35-14 lead into the fourth period.
"At some point, if you don't score ... everything is affected," Morgan said. "You don't play as well on the defensive end and they're able to play with comfort. And I think we got some of that. But that was obviously not our best effort."
The Mustangs extended their lead to 41-19 on Micaela Albright's basket in the paint with 5:20 to play. A 3-pointer by Melnikoff (team-high 11 points) and a basket inside by Kerigan Jenkins pulled Strasburg within 17 points in the final two minutes.
The Rams shot just 27.9 percent (12 for 43) from the field compared to a 33.9-percent (20 for 59) mark for George Mason. The Mustangs forced 23 total turnovers and recorded 15 steals out of its 1-2-2 half-court zone trap defense.
"I thought there were some times where some of the girls were taking the ball and putting themselves in positions that weren't good for themselves," Morgan said. "But then some of it was, I told them at halftime, if you know you're getting trapped in the corner you've got to see ahead when the ball comes to you. If you have a shot, take it. If not you've got to know they're coming and be ready to make a play."
Mikala Alsberry, Katie Dofermire and Carey Scott all finished with four points for Strasburg. Albright had 10 points for George Mason.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD