READING, Mass. -- Kenny Reed calmly brought the ball over half-court, planted, hesitated, then calmly watched as the feathery, NBA-range three-pointer he jacked up landed with seemingly the same effortless force he exerted walking into the shot. That gave Reading High a nice 16-6 cushion just five minutes into this big Middlesex League tilt.
And from that point on, it was all...Wakefield.
The Warriors responded immediately, soundly and forcefully over the remaining 27 minutes, outscoring the Rockets 28-6 over the remainder of the first half to take a commanding lead into the break. From there, Wakefield turned in some solid defensive rotations, created some key second-chance points, and hit their free throws to ice a 59-48 win at the Hawkes Field House.
"We just knew that we couldn't bow down, and had to step up our intensity," senior guard Keyon Armstrong (12 points) said of the Warriors' play following those opening minutes. "And just know that we couldn't let that get away from us."
But how did he feel after that all-too-easy walk-up three?
"A little...aggravated that I let it happen," Armstrong confessed. "But I know when the team comes together, we'll be alright."
Perhaps it wasn't that particular play, but rather the Warriors' own play on a whole, that woke them up. Whatever the case, Wakefield (9-3) turned up the pressure over the ensuing 10 minutes to take a 34-22 lead into halftime.
It started with some heady play around the rim from the Warriors' star freshman swingman Bruce Brown (18 points, 15 rebounds). He created some transition points with a steal in the halfcourt and some offensive rebounds to cut the Rockets' (10-3) lead to four at the end of the first quarter.
Then, to start the second, down 16-12, Brown crashed the glass on an errant jumper and tipped in a put-back, followed by a Kendall Hamilton (12 points) 16-footer from the baseline, cleared by a Mikol Blake-Green screen. On the ensuing Rockets trip down the floor, an errant Reed windmill layup was scooper up by Armstrong, who dribbled up to the near volleyball line, threw an outlet to Brown and watched as the frosh laid it in easily for an 18-16 lead.
Hamilton extended the lead to five the next trip down when he inbounded from the baseline to the left corner, where a wide open James Bourque sunk a three. From there, the Warriors never surrendered the lead; Reading never came within eight points in the second half.
"We never let the student body get into the action," Wakefield head coach Brad Simpson said. "That was nice. But, Reading's a good team, obviously you've got to bring your A-game if you expect to beat them. I think for most of the 32 minutes we played pretty well."
Playing through pain: Armstrong has been battling through a wrist injury recently, and Simpson made it a point to applaud the senior captain for his perseverance. One of the Warriors' most dynamic scorers, Armstrong is also often asked to defend the opposition's most dangerous scorer.
Tonight, that task was marking Reed when in man-to-man, with the bum wrist and all, and he held the senior point guard to a respectable 8 of 19 campaign from the field. Reed totaled 21 points on the night to lead Reading.
"He's playing with a lot of pain, and he just gave us a great effort tonight, despite the fact that he's not really 100 percent with his wrist," Simpson said of Armstrong. "He's kind of the motor that keeps us running at an optimum level."
Commanding the paint: With his stocky 6-foot-5 frame, and complimentary lower-body strength, Reading senior center Jerry Ellis-Williams looks the part of someone that, at this level of competition, can control the boards at will.
But there's a twist with Ellis-Williams' game -- the big guy can step out and get hot from deep. And with that in mind, the Warriors fed into that strategy, letting him fire away from the perimeter but keeping him grounded when he wandered into the paint. It worked, as Ellis-Williams finished with six points on 2-of-12 shooting from the field. But more importantly, he was just 1-of-8 from three-point range, picked up his second foul with 3:19 left in the first quarter, and third with two minutes left in the second quarter.
"My freshman year, he hit two three's to beat us in overtime," Hamilton said. "He's normally a good shooter, but we saw he kept missing, so we let him keep shooting."
Overall, the Warriors held a 38-32 advantage on the boards.
Brown a star in the making: Brown, a 6-foot-1 forward, has a unique skill set that demonstrates maturity beyond that of a 15-year-old. With a lean build and a skill set similar to that of high-major recruits like Wayne Selden or Jared Terrell, it isn't just that Brown is fearless attacking the rim -- it's that he makes it look smooth.
In one sequence, Brown picked up steam from behind the play and delivered a block on a would-be layup, getting called for a questionable on-the-arm foul. In the fourth quarter, he took off from just below the volleyball line across the paint for a one-handed slam and picked up a foul.
Doesn't seem like the work of a freshman, does it?
"It doesn't at all," Hamilton said. "He's one of those kids that's coming into his own. I mean, he's an amazing talent. He's like a little brother to me. He's getting there."
Hamilton added, "Hopefully, he stays one more year, so we can make a run at it," alluding to the growing public perception that at some point -- perhaps sooner rather than later -- Brown will try and take his talents to one of the more competitive prep school programs that operate under the NEPSAC.
Simpson called Brown's seamless, effortless-looking play "silky", drawing on his memories of watching former UCLA and Lakers star Jamaal Wilkes (nicknamed "Silky" himself) for added effect.
"I think he's just blessed," Simpson said of Brown. "You know, you look at another 15-year-old, they've got talent, they've got skills and stuff, but you also have to have that...he's 6-1, and he's blessed with the ability to jump. And when he jumps, he's up there."