Varsity Boys Basketball Dons Drop Season Opener to Marshall

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The Verdugo Hills Dons Boys Varsity Basketball team kicked off their season against the John Marshall Barristers on Friday evening. The intensity was high right from the tip, with both teams going directly into their full-court press defenses. The Dons, without Senior All-City Guard David Marcos, fell behind early in what was a first quarter full of deflected passes and the nerves that can come with a season opener. The bleachers were full, the players’ Covid masks hung over their chins in an awkward limbo, and the home crowd stomped their feet during the free-throws of the visiting Dons.

Senior Center/Power Forward Adrien Mirzakani put the Dons on the board with a high-arching three-pointer, a triumphant first field-goal of the season. However, the Barristers followed up with two three-pointers of their own, taking an 11-3 lead, forcing Verdugo Hills into an early time out. Mirzakani kept up his scoring effort after the time out, finishing with ten points in the quarter, keeping the Dons within striking distance going into the second quarter trailing 15-22. Marshall’s 6’7” Center dominated the boards early on, and the Barristers guards would find him for alley-oop lay-ups often.The majority of the Dons first quarter baskets came from breaking through Marshall’s press. Neither team was able to settle into their half-court offenses until the second quarter, as Marcos’ absence was felt in the backcourt. The Dons struggled with handling the ball throughout the contest.

The second quarter started with the big center on the bench for the Barristers, a relief to the Dons’ frontcourt. Verdugo Hills started getting steals from their press, and converting them into full-court layups. It seemed as though the Dons might rally to take the lead early on in the second quarter with the momentum on their side. Center Guillermo Lopez sank a mid-range jumper, followed by another three pointer from Mirzakani, cutting the deficit to 20-24. However, from the six-minute mark through the end of the half, Marshall would go on a 15-2 run. Buoyed by the home crowd, Marshall capitalized on turnovers forced by their full-court press and hit several three-pointers to head into halftime up 39-22.

If anything was clear at the beginning of the third quarter, it was that Coach Gibson told his team during their halftime huddle that he wanted his bigs to get physical with the Marshall big-man #34 who had been tearing them up on the glass and getting too many open shots. DonsPower Forward Georges Abdoulnour picked up two fouls early defending #34, so, too, did Guillermo Lopez. It became clear that the third quarter was getting chippy, and on the verge of overly physical. Marshall took an 18-point lead halfway through the quarter, 26-44, and began sitting back in their 2-3 zone, while Verdugo Hills kept the pressure in their man-defense. The game felt like it was slipping away from the Dons until the lights out three-point shooting from the left corner by Senior Forward Erik Yepremian, bringing the wind back into the Dons sails, hitting three from long range. However, Marshall closed out the quarter strong, with their big-man hitting a slew of mid-range turnaround shots, lay-ups, and one emphatic two-handed dunk that brought the home crowd to their feet. The physical third quarter ended with each team having committed eight fouls, and the score 54-37 in favor of the hosts.

Verdugo Hills Coach Gibson stressed ball movement in the fourth quarter, right out of the gate, and the team responded positively again. A couple of the Dons offensive possessions early on in the quarter racked up 10 to 15 passes. Yepramian drained another three-pointer from the corner, followed by a three-pointer from Shooting Guard Alexander Martinez. With five minutes remaining in the game, the Dons were down 15 points but seemed to have momentum. However, it was not to be. After a late time-out, Marshall came out with their fiercest defensive effort all-game and began to pull away and seal the victory, 68-50.

In a post-game interview, Coach Gibson elaborated on his team this year, expressing his excitement, “I have three sophomores on Varsity, and they’re all playing, so that’s big for our future. We have our Senior Center, that’s Adrien Mirzakani, and he’s gonna average double digits and get a bunch of rebounds. And then we have two wing players, Arlen Tomasian, and Erik Yepremyan, the one who hit a bunch of threes from the corner, yeah he’s on fire. So, we have the players. We just gotta stay healthy.” With the Dons missing their all-city court general in David Marcos, it’s hard to grasp the full identity of this exciting Verdugo Hills Varsity Boys Basketball team without arguably their best player. Coach Gibson continued, outlining his hopes for the Dons this season, stating, “Every year our goal is to challenge for the league title. The dream is to win a section title.”

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