WEYMOUTH, Mass. -- Players from the Weymouth basketball team looked up at the scoreboard at their home gym as they headed into the halftime break, glanced at the 34-9 score, and dipped into the locker room to the chorus of a "single digits" chant from the visiting Newton North student section.
Then the Wildcats came out swinging, and cut the Tigers' lead to single digits, outscoring them 41-19 over the first 11 minutes of the half to close the gap to 55-50. But some key transition basket from two clutch seniors, and a dagger 3-pointer from a promising freshman, put the finishing touches on a 73-63 Newton North victory that puts the Tigers in control of the Bay State Conference's Carey division.
And so just 48 hour after losing a thriller in overtime to red-hot Brockton, the Tigers quickly rebounded with one of their strongest performances of the season's second half.
"We knew they were going to make a run. Basketball is a game of runs," North head coach Paul Connolly said. "Ours was early, theirs was in the middle, and we hung on and did what we had to do. We're in their gym, they're not going to lay down. You've got some tough, tough, city-type athletes here in Weymouth. That's a really good team, so for us to come in their gym, play the way we played early, was terrific."
To put it bluntly, the Wildcats (13-2, 12-2) couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, going 4-for-23 from the field and 0-for-7 from the free throw line. Between a plethora of shots that hit iron, and a mix of 2-2-1 and diamond-and-one presses from the Tigers (15-1, 13-0), the Wildcats appeared overwhelmed at first.
But they came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, opening with a 12-3 run, ending the third quarter with a Khary Bailey-Smith breakaway two-handed slam that energized the home crowd, and eventually cutting North's lead down to 55-50 with five minutes to go.
"We talked about not handling their press well, and about getting in the middle and reversing it," Weymouth head coach Jim Dolan said of the half-time adjustments. "We didn't do a good job of that in the first half, and a much better job of it in the second half. But our guys didn't quit. Newton North is a great program, and you can't spot anybody a 25-point lead, nevermind a Newton North lead."
North responded down the stretch with clutch performances from its biggest playmakers to ice this one. Down low, senior forward Barry Santana (20 points, 17 rebounds) stepped out to the wing and hit Luke Westman with a backdoor touch pass. Westman picked up the foul in the process, and converted the three-point play, to make it 59-50 with just under four minutes to go.
A few possessions later, Santana took a high entry lob over the top from freshman Tommy Mobley for a wide-open lay-in; he followed up the next trip down with a layup off a pick-and-roll with Michael Thorpe (20 points) to make it 65-54 with two minutes left.
Mobley then put the clamps down on this one with a dagger 3-pointer from the left wing, off a long pass from the opposite corner by Westman, to make it 68-57 with 1:37 to go.
Damian Lugay led the Wildcats in scoring with 17 points, while junior Connor Deegan added 13.
Oye Como Va: Since the Tigers won back-to-back MIAA Division 1 state titles in 2005 and 2006 by pushing a fast pace with an NCAA Division 1 backcourt of Anthony Gurley (Wake Forest/UMass) and Corey Lowe (Boston University), they have had a size luxury. From the 6-foot-8 Greg Kelley (currently a sophomore at Yale) to 6-foot-8 Tevin Falzon (a post-graduate a Winchendon who has signed with Sacred Heart) to his younger brother Aaron (who has since transferred to St. Mark's), it had been a gradual switch to a halfcourt-oriented offense.
In 2011-12, the Tigers present a dramatically different look in the frontcourt, with the 6-foot-2 Santana being counted on for a role once owned by players nearly half a foot taller than him. For once unable to rely on a shot-blocking big man behind the play for help, this guard-heavy lineup loves to run up and down the court
It was Santana's five rebounds in the first quarter that enabled the Tigers to push such a tempo in transition and open with a 12-2 run that set the tone for the night. On both ends, the undersized Santana does the dirty work underneath night after night, in spite of his guard-like frame.
"I thought the difference in the game at so many levels was Barry," Connolly said. "Barry was so active all night long. He was on the glass, loose balls, defensively, he easily had a double-double tonight. He kept balls alive for us."
Thorpe said Santana is "an animal."
"He's just always going, no matter what," Thorpe said. "He gets so excited for these games, and just loves to go. Nobody's going to stop him, he doesn't like to lose, and when we lost to Brockton (on Sunday) he took it really hard. He made sure to make a statement coming out tonight. I love playing with him."
Thorpe stepping up: Connolly commented on Thorpe's play over the last week and half, stressing that the Emerson-bound senior has "really shown some great point guard ability."
"He's really, really solid," Connolly said. "I get on him in terms of turnovers, missed assignments sometimes. But he takes it, he's real coachable. His point guard ability in the last couple of weeks has really elevated."
Also playing a motivating factor? Public perception.
"You've kind of just got to step up," Thorpe said. "You know people are talking about you, 'Newton North this, Newton North that'...coming into the season, people were like 'Oh, Newton North doesn't have any size', blah blah, 'They're going to be mediocre at best'. Then we blow the head off, we win our first 14 games and [now] people are like 'Whoa, Newton North is this'."
'Mobley Time', part 2: Last month, we introduced the term "Mobley Time" on this blog to characterize St. Peter-Marian senior swingman Matt Mobley and his knack for explosive late-game performances. Perhaps Tommy Mobley, North's promising sharp-shooter of a freshman, could be the heir apparent.
The 15-year-old Mobley, brother of former North star and Yale sophomore Greg Kelley, has been known to put up as many as 1,000 jump shots in a day. It shows on the court; there are few freshman seen at the MIAA level with not only stout confidence in his shot, but mastery of it -- a repeatable follow-through, perfect 60-degree arc, soft touch and quick release.
Mobley didn't enter the game until the fourth quarter tonight, and it's probably hard for the unfamiliar to believe that the shot he took seems so automatic coming off his hands. But just ask his coaches and teammates what it's like playing with him.
"It's a blessing, just to have him coming off the bench," Thorpe said. "You know when it goes up, it's going in. It's beautiful to have a kid like that."
Said Connolly, "He's fearless, he's a real weapon for us. He's got a great attitude, he's real, real coachable."