FALLS CHURCH -- Central’s boys basketball team couldn’t keep pace with a hot-shooting George Mason team in the second half of Tuesday’s Bull Run District contest, continuing a recent trend that has seen the Falcons struggle to find consistency on the offensive end.
After scoring no fewer than 73 points in each of its first five games -- all victories -- Central is averaging 54.1 points per game over its last seven and has failed to score 50 points three times in that span. In those seven games, the Falcons are 3-4.
In Tuesday’s 16-point loss to Mason, Central’s 46 points were its second-lowest output of the season, and the Falcons turned the ball over 18 times while shooting only 39 percent from the field.
“We just need to get back to the basics,” Falcons head coach Jeff Whittle said after the loss, which was littered with errant passes, miscommunication and missed shots.
“The only way is to continue to work on it in practice, work on our offense. We’re struggling right now jump-stopping, cutting hard, just little simple things that we can easily reverse.”
The higher level of competition the Falcons (8-4) have played has contributed to their struggles over the past seven games. Central’s two other 40-point games -- a 56-48 loss to Spring Mills and an 85-44 setback to Martinsburg -- came to a pair of West Virginia schools in a tournament at Martinsburg just after Christmas.
The Falcons rebounded with lopsided wins over Turner Ashby (67-47) and Clarke County (68-34), then mustered only 52 points in a win over Skyline on Saturday after dropping 73 on the Hawks in their second game of the season.
“We struggled when we went to Martinsburg,” Falcons senior Sam Shifflett said after the loss to Mason, “but that’s a whole different environment for us. I feel like we got it back against TA and Clarke. … Tonight the shots weren’t really falling for us. We had good looks, they just didn’t go in. We just haven't been shooting the three as well as we have been and the shots haven’t been falling the way that they were to start the season.”
Central, which has thrived on its perimeter shooting in recent years, made just 1 of 16 3-point attempts on Tuesday night.
“We’ve just gotta find other ways to score,” Whittle said. “Just getting some good movement, getting some better movement. And we gotta get into some conditioning. But yeah, I have a lot of confidence in these guys to bounce right back.”
The Falcons missed open looks against Mason, but senior point guard Jared Patton said opposing teams have started defending Central differently during its cold spell as well.
Whittle said after last weekend’s win over Skyline that the Hawks were trying to slow the pace, and Patton said the Mustangs -- who matched up with the Falcons in full-court man-to-man all game -- did something similar to a Central team that wants to “get out and go.”
“We started off hot and then teams started to hear about us,” Patton said, “word got around and I think they’re cracking down more, getting up in us more and making us play a little slower than what we like to play.”
The Falcons also looked out of sorts after George Mason broke open the game with a decisive 11-0 run at the end of the third period. Central missed a good look inside and air-balled a 3-pointer during that run and committed five turnovers in the fourth period as it scrambled to rally from a 13-point deficit.
Two of those fourth-quarter turnovers came as the result of bad passes under limited pressure, another was an over-and-back call forced by a Mason trap at half-court, one came when Patton dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds and the last occurred when center Dominic Strother fell as he cut through the lane, allowing a pass to fall into the arms of a Mason defender.
“I think we just got rushed and we were freaking out because we were down by 10 and we were trying to do too much,” Shifflett said. “I think people were just trying to force it and in those situations we just need to learn to relax, just run the offense, get some open looks and we’ll be all right.”