Hoophall: No. 1 Central Cath. 72, Cathedral 66

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It seemed like it was a matter of time before Tyler Nelson’s hand regained its magic touch Friday night at the Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College.

After continuously being the thorn in the side of the Springfield Cathedral’s zone defense for three quarters it appeared the Panthers finally had found a way to slow down Nelson. Yet after being held scoreless for most of the fourth quarter, Nelson drilled a three-pointer when it mattered most.

The sophomore extended his arms from the left side of the key with just under 1:30 remaining to give Central Catholic (8-0) a 66-62 lead over the Panthers (5-2), and delivered the Raiders their first win at the historic high school showcase in school history, 72-66.

“They were playing a 2-3 zone and mostly they kicked it from the corner, I squared my feet, shot it and luckily made it,” Nelson said.

“I just wanted to go out there and get a win,” he added. “Central has been here four years and probably had better teams in the past and still hadn’t won.”

Nelson finished with a team-high 19 points and was 5-of-9 from behind the arc. Overall, the sophomore guard was 6-of-12 from the field while also grabbing seven rebounds.

“As a young player, he does so many good things for us,” said Central head coach Rick Nault. "We run a lot of things for him. He’s a very confident kid and we definitely feel comfortable with the ball in his hands. He is willing and ready to take the big shot and he did that for us tonight.”

Nault preached to his team all week the opportunity they had to become the first in school history to win at the Hoophall Classic, and he couldn't be happier.

“It’s a long ride for us to come up here,” Nault said. “But to get a win against a real good team is a great feeling.”

An Expected Play: After Cathedral’s Lou Garcia stole a poor Central Catholic inbound pass and made a lay up to cut the Raider lead to 66-64 with 55.4 seconds remaining, Central Catholic senior captain Shawn McCoy grabbed a tough offensive rebound underneath the basket at the other half of the court, and went up strong to give the Raiders a two-possession lead.

“For us to have such a young group, and for him being the only senior captain, to come up with a big play [like] that is expected of him,” Nault said. “The tip in was huge.”

McCoy expected to have to fight for a rebound.

“Joel [Berroa] made a nice pass to Doug [Gemmell] underneath the hoop and I knew there was going to be some kind of rebound with a lot of people down there, fouling and hacking and stuff,” McCoy said. “I was hoping I could get the rebound and I got it.”

McCoy (14 points, 5 rebounds) started the game on a tear, scoring the Raiders' first eight points in a fast-paced first quarter.

A Bigger Advantage: One of the biggest difference-makers in the game was Central Catholic’s interior presence on both ends of the court. The Raiders outrebounded Cathedral 48-23, and the Raiders used 18 offensive rebounds to register 21 second-chance points.

“We always pride ourselves on rebounding and we do that in practice all the time,” McCoy said. “We pride ourselves on a physical defensive presence and that comes hand in hand with that.”

Joining McCoy on the glass was Gemmell’s game-high nine rebounds and Berroa’s seven.

Slow Starting Trends: For the fourth time in the last five games the Raiders have struggled in the first half.

Friday, Cathedral used a tough, gritty defense to open up a 18-17 first quarter lead and battle neck-and-neck against the best in the state. The Panthers scored 18 of their 23 points off turnovers in the first half and trailed 32-31 at halftime.

It was the most points allowed by the Raiders in a first half this season according to Nault and he believes the Raiders are still struggling to adjust to playing without star guard Luis Puello, who has been out with a high ankle sprain.

“I think guys have to realize Louis isn’t here and they have to realize they can’t rely on him and have to be ready to step in right away and make plays,” he said.

Puello 'day to day': Puello was on the bench in dress clothes after missing another game due to an ankle injury suffered in the Raider’s 56-39 victory over Pinkerton Academy (N.H.).

Nault said he hopes to have the 2011 ESPNBoston All-Defensive Team selection back within seven to 10 days, but is also calling Puello “day-to-day.”

A Valiant Effort: Cathedral’s Lou Garcia went shot-for-shot with Nelson and finished with a game-high 23 points and five steals. The junior made some big three’s to help the Panthers come back from a 10-point third quarter deficit.

“This year we moved him into the point guard spot and he’s kind of taken on that role and he found his shot earlier and made some huge shots for us," said Cathedral coach Justin Dalessio. “He kept us in the game which is great to see. He played great.”

Garcia said he and his teammates were not intimidated by the top-ranked team in the state but said the game was a good reminder.

“It’s a wake-up call because we were on a winning streak and we were getting too high on ourselves,” Garcia said. “This brings us down to reality and we have to work even harder every single game.”