DANVERS, Mass. -- It was one of those games where you could tell early on that it was going to come down to the wire.
Both teams made runs at various points in the games, and answered back when their opponent made theirs. Ultimately, it was No. 2 Catholic Memorial that came out on top 56-55 over No. 16 St. John’s Prep Tuesday night.
It was a rematch between between two Catholic Conference foes who met Jan. 13. Catholic Memorial took home the 89-64 victory.
Prep came out strong, determined to show the teams’ first game was a fluke, and was helped by CM’s early shot selection. While CM coach Denis Tobin was clamoring for ball movement and involving players in the post, his team was settling for perimeter shots that were not falling.
After calling a timeout, his team appeared to settle down and closed the gap on Prep. The Knights’ full-court press flummoxed the Prep offense, forcing them into making errant passes and into turnovers. At the end of the first, CM held a 13-12 lead.
“I have super athletes who can really really harass the ball,” said Tobin. “Then I have (Dan) Powers (15 points) and (Matt) Droney (17 points) who have played four years in the system and really know where to rotate to when the ball is in the air.
"So you take Chris Siggers, Aamahne Santos (11 points), and Armani Reeves (4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) pressuring the ball and you have two 1,000 scorer veterans who know where the pass is most likely going to go. Then you have big Gerard Adams in the back if they do happen to break it, so it can be pretty effective.”
The two teams battled back and forth for the remainder of the first half, with no team ever taking a lead of more than four points.
Catholic Memorial took a 25-21 lead into the half, but came out in the third and quickly stretched its lead to nine. As was the case all night, Prep answered back and cut the score to 37-33 heading into the fourth.
Again sticking to the theme of the game, CM started the quarter strong and brought the lead back up to 9 points behind two three-pointers by Powers and Droney. This time, it took Prep a few minutes longer to answer back.
With 2:23 left in the game, CM took a 52-41 lead. After only scoring one basket over the next minute and 45 seconds, Owen Marchetti hit two quick three-pointers to make it 53-50. Because it was so late in the game, Prep was forced into foul-mode, which put Droney at the free-throw line.
It was a spot the newest member of CM's 1,000-point club had been in before. He sank both free throws, making it a two-possession game with about 15 seconds to go.
As the final seconds ticked down, Marchetti heaved the ball from just over halfcourt. It banked off the backboard and went in as time expired, allowing CM to come away with the one-point victory.
“Those free throws at the end mattered a lot,” said Tobin. “We didn’t make all of them, but we made the front ends of one-and-ones with a lot of pressure on. The kids stepped up and did a great job at the line and that just goes to show you that the game isn’t over until the horn goes off.”
Kinks in the press break: In an attempt to beat the CM press, Prep employed Isaiah Robinson in the center of the floor, flanked by Steve Haladyna and Freddy Shove. The idea was to facilitate quick side-to-side ball movement with the three veteran players, preventing the defense from collapsing on one player, while Prep moved the ball over halfcourt.
That was not always the case, however. On multiple occasions Tuesday night, Robinson had the ball in his hands with a light defensive presence around him. Because he is not normally relied on to dribble the basketball much on offense, he committed more than one traveling violation.
On other possessions, the ball pressure from Siggers, Santos, and Reeves was so immense that they were either able to steal the ball or jump in front of Prep’s passes, allowing them to take the ball the other way.
“We weren’t really looking to go back to him (Isaiah) and I think guys were a little timid and not attacking and being aggressive, so they went back to him,” said Prep coach Sean Connolly. “They forced us into a lot of turnovers , and that hurt with (Mike) Carbone out too. He’s another guy that could make better decisions with the ball.”
Carbone sidelined: Carbone, a normal Prep starter, was dressed in street clothes for the game as the result of a concussion. He has been out of action for about a week and a half. This put Drex Costello into the starting lineup and rely on his bench to increase its production.
“Mike’s our best shooter so defenses don’t extend out as much,” said Connolly. “When he’s out, we have other guys who aren’t as consistent shooting the ball so the defense can pack it in a little more. That hurts us I think, especially when we have Isaiah and Haladyna trying to post up.”
Battling the boards: Although it did not come away with the victory, Prep flexed its muscles on the boards the whole game. Two of its players had double-doubles (Haladyna -- 22 points, 12 rebounds; Robinson -- 12 points, 15 rebounds) and a third with double-digit rebounds (Shove, with 15). The leading Knights rebounder was Armani Reeves with 6.
“Overall, we defended and we rebounded, that’s what we were looking to do,” said Connolly. “We haven’t been doing those two things, so I was fairly pleased with that.”
Connolly feels that if he can duplicate that production and get his whole team back and healthy, it could make a run as the end of the season approaches.
“Only if we rebound and defense like we did tonight,” he said. “Those are the two things that have been a glaring weakness. We’ve been stressing those, and I think the kids responded. Obviously our offensive execution was not very good, so to beat teams like this we have to get better on the offensi