Boys’ basketball: Outsized Central aims to frustrate bigger opponents in the paint

Ignited by a high-scoring, speedy-but-small backcourt and lacking the height of most of their Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A foes, the Central Falcons don't look like a team that would make the inside game a point of emphasis.

Thanks to the drive-and-kick and drive-and-finish prowess of senior guards Davon Taylor (24 points per game) and Oxon Hill transfer Gary Stewart (16 ppg), the Falcons (6-1, 3-1) boast offensive firepower in transition as well as in half-court sets. But while they’ve flown to the top of the county standings by bombarding opponents from the backcourt, the Falcons believe they’ll be able to sustain that success by pestering opponents in the paint, where they’re often outsized.

“We need to rebound. Crash the boards, and box out,” Taylor said. “All five of us have to crash in order for us to win. “

The Falcons’ only loss of the season came against then-No. 5 Potomac, a much larger team with a corps of towering post players who pushed Central off rebounds and altered inside shots.

Taylor said his Falcons need to rebound and finish better in the paint if they hope to beat top PG 3A/2A/1A competition like Potomac. Central Coach Lawrence Pugh said he considers the Falcons to be among the league’s elite, though he admitted they rely on team rebounding and defensive cohesiveness more than bigger teams. But he was also quick to point out that Central is not entirely without skill down low. Forward Kenneth Pettaway, averaging 13 points through seven games, has emerged as a consistent contributor.

The top plays from the weekend of high school basketball in the D.C. area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

Pettaway “has been really good for us,” Taylor said. “He’s aggressive, he gets steals.”

Pugh says his team tries to pressure opponents man-to-man whenever possible in the hopes of frustrating them with relentless quickness. But when matchups don’t favor his Falcons, Pugh is not opposed to switching to a zone.

“We are one of the smallest teams in the county,” Pugh said. “There’s no guessing what we’re going to do: We’re going to put the pressure on you. Thirty-two minutes of basketball defensively. Sometimes, against a real big team, we’ll go zone to protect the middle, but we’ll fight just as hard inside.”

The Falcons will be tested when they face one of the county’s top big men, Largo’s Abdulai Bundu, in a showdown of two of the top three teams in the Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A standings.

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