LAWRENCE, Mass. --- It was only fitting that the championship game of the Greater Lawrence Boys Christmas Tournament involved Merrimack Valley Conference cross city rival high schools Central Catholic and Lawrence.
In a back and forth, defensively charged game it was Central Catholic guard Tyler Nelson who settled the contest for the Raiders and took charge in the fourth quarter. The poised sophomore stepped up when it mattered most to lead Central Catholic (5-0) to the 75-65 victory over Lawrence (4-1).
Nelson took home tournament MVP honors as he scored 24 points and dished out five assists, with none prettier than two precise backdoor conversions in the fourth quarter to help seal the win for Central.
“He is the smartest player I have ever had with the ball in hands,” said Central Catholic Head Coach Rick Nault of Nelson. “He makes such good decisions.”
Central Catholic was playing without senior starting point guard Luis Puello, who suffered a sprained left ankle in Wednesday's semifinal victory over Pinkerton Academy (N.H.). Despite the loss of one of the state’s premier perimeter defenders Central matched Lawrence’s defensive intensity in the first half as both teams applied perimeter pressure that forced numerous rushed shots, turnovers and a myriad of free throw attempts.
With Central Catholic leading 30-26 at the half Lawrence came out of the break and applied intense full court pressure that resulted in a momentum shift that saw the Lancers go on a 9-0 run to earn a four point lead with 2:39 remaining in the quarter.
Each time Lawrence gained momentum, however, it was the steadying play of Nelson that squelched any run. The sophomore hit two big 3-pointers in the third quarter and also had a key steal on the defensive end to give the Raiders a 47-45 lead heading into the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter it was the heady play and perfect free throw shooting of Nelson, the post offense from Doug Gemmell and the three critical steals by Mike Barry that keyed Central Catholic’s 10-point victory.
“This was our first goal of the season to win this tournament and that is what we did,” said Nelson. “It was a team effort and everyone stepped up without our best player.”
Second Half Surge: Nelson scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and went 14-for- 14 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter alone.
Nelson was perfect on the night from the free throw stripe shooting 16-for-16.
Gemmell also had a large presence in the second half as he established the post for the first time in the game and scored 14 of his 16 points after the break.
Lawrence senior guard Yadoris Arias scored all 15 of his points in the second half and provided lock down defensive pressure throughout the game.
X-Factors: Lawrence seniors Tre’von Farley and Franklin Martinez were all over the court for the Lancers on the night. The seniors impressed with their numerous hustle plays, aggressive defense and timely rebounding.
The 6-foot-3 Farley scored 15 points on the evening to go along with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. The 5-foot-11 Martinez chipped in with 12 points including two third quarter 3-pointers that helped propel Lawrence’s run.
All-Tournament: Nelson was named tournament MVP with Gemmell, Farley, Martinez and North Andover’s Zach Karalis rounding out the starting five. Arias was named the tournament’s 6th man award winner and Lawrence’s Roberto Speing and Central Catholic’s Shawn McCoy were named the Coaches Award’s recipients.