Along with the prestige from its successful alumni (Kevin Durant, Greivis Vasquez), whenever Montrose Christian takes the floor this season, the Mustangs usually have one thing in their favor: size.
In the paint, No. 4 Montrose boasts 6-foot-10 Cole Harrison and 6-foot-8 Mark Williams (not to mention wide-bodied Baylor recruit Ishmail Wainright, who can make his mark from anywhere on the floor). Both Harrison and Williams are in their first and only years at the Rockville-based team after moving from Tennessee and Ohio, respectively, and appear to be hitting their stride in this last stretch of the season.
Williams is averaging 19.8 points and ten rebounds during the Mustangs’ last five games while Harrison put together his best game of the season in the Jan. 30 defeat of nationally ranked Oak Hill Academy, scoring 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting.
“First and foremost, we try to live up to our presence by rebounding and finishing little bunnies around the rim,” said Williams, who leads the Mustangs with 15.2 points per game. “Those points in the paint add up and once me and Cole get going, that opens up things outside for shooters like Ishmail and Justin [Robinson].”
The emergence of these twin towers has been key for the team’s evolution this season. After senior swingman Jordan Swopshire was dismissed for a violation of team rules, the Mustangs were forced to slow down the tempo some and play inside-out.
“Mark has been consistently dominant and I’ve been working to get to that level, and now that we’ve found our fit in the offense, we know what it takes to be forces inside and keep the defense on its toes,” Harrison said. “For me, the biggest thing was making sure I had an impact on defense, first and foremost, and then build off of that.”
The Mustangs’ defensive ability was on full display Saturday when they held a talented Coolidge squad to just 30 points. Williams led the way with 21 points and 15 rebounds while Harrison chipped in nine rebounds and four points. On the other end, both big men provided help defense that allowed Montrose to pull away in the third quarter.
The size and recent play of both Williams and Harrison has led to increased recruitment from colleges. Williams has received interest from Villanova, Nebraska, Towson and Kent State while Harrison is hearing from Jacksonville, Dartmouth and Lipscomb, where his father Barry played.
For now, though, both are focused on helping the Mustangs close out the season well enough to earn a spot in ESPN’s National High School Invitational.
“We’re not finished yet and I feel like we haven’t even peaked yet,” Williams said. “I know it’s late in the season but we’re hitting our stride and still can get better.”
In action over the weekend:
● No. 6 O’Connell slipped past No. 13 St. John’s, 79-77, on two free throws by Melo Trimble with seven seconds remaining. These shots likely provided some redemption for the Maryland recruit, who missed three free throws in crunch time during a Feb. 1 loss to Paul VI. Can’t say enough good things about Trimble, who has an outside stroke as sweet as Ray Allen’s and a game as efficient as Tony Parker’s.
● I had a chance to see No. 5 North Point on Friday in its win against Thomas Stone. The Eagles are an impressive bunch who push the tempo with their wealth of offensive weapons led by Matt Bonds and Marquis Wright. Coach Jimmy Ball says this is the best team he’s ever coached and if they can fix their free-throw shooting — the Eagles were only 15 for 39 on Friday — they have a good shot at winning the Maryland 4A state crown.
●DeMatha avenged a loss earlier this week to Good Counsel by beating the Falcons, 66-49, on Sunday. While it’s no secret that the Stags are having a down year at 12-11, every WCAC coach I’ve talked to says DeMatha is the type of sleeping giant that they hope to avoid come conference tournament time.
● Speaking of the WCAC tournament, the girls’ side should be just as interesting. Good Counsel handed Paul VI its second loss in three games following a 23-0 start. The Lady Panthers also fell to St. John’s last week. Good Counsel has now won 10 games in a row behind the play of Amanda Fioravanti and Lindsey Spann. Check back on our site later to see how this action among the area’s top three teams affects this week’s rankings.
●Potomac Falls continued its impressive late-season run by beating Loudoun Valley in a Saturday playoff to clinch the AA Dulles District regular season crown. I witnessed the first meeting between these teams when Loudoun Valley won pretty handily, but the potential within this young Panthers squad was apparent in sophomore Wanya Allen and freshman Michael Janowski. Make that a 29-1 record for the Panthers in the month of February during the last four seasons.
Number of points scored in 35 seconds by Jerian Grant to rally Notre Dame back during regulation in the Fighting Irish’s thrilling five-overtime victory against Louisville on Saturday. Grant, of course, starred at DeMatha and faced off against his younger brother, Syracuse freshman Jerami, last week.
If you think about it, that caps quite the week for local sibling connections. Of course there was the “HarBowl,” then the Grants faced off and also Good Counsel’s Kendall Fuller continued the family legacy Wednesday by becoming the fourth Fuller to sign with Virginia Tech’s football program.
●Katie Ledecky and Jack Conger shined with record-breaking performances while Wootton’s girls and Gonzaga’s boys won the team swimming titles at Metros, writes Bryan Flaherty.
Riverdale looks to strengthen its hold on first place in the Capital Beltway Conference when it travels to face a surging Eagles squad. Nigel Johnson and Khary Doby are expected back for the Crusaders after missing six games due to academic issues.