WORCESTER, Mass. -– A half hour after one of the best games of Jacek Louisville’s basketball career led the Holy Name Naps to the inaugural Worcester city boys basketball championship, the senior guard walked upstairs to exit Worcester North High School.
Louisville had just finished discussing his role in Friday night’s 71-66 victory against St. Peter-Marian to reporters –- and with 20 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and a number of fourth-quarter free throws to help fend off a comeback, his role had been plenty important.
But as the tournament MVP finished the final stair and turned to enter victoriously into the night, his uncle Lucas Jimenez beckoned him from down the hallway.
“Come check this out. This is what you guys still need to get,” Jimenez said, leading Louisville to a trophy case at the end of the hall. He pointed at a plaque dedicated to the 2005 Central Mass. Champions and a ball christened with all the players’ names. “See my name right there? You guys aren’t done yet.”
No, Holy Name isn’t done yet. And judging by the way they played against St. Peter-Marian, they may just be getting started.
The Naps used unselfish ball movement and a hunger for rebounds to build a 19-point second half lead, then held off the surging Guardians – who cut the margin to three with 16.1 seconds left –- by making just enough free throws down the stretch. The win claimed the first annual Worcester City Championship –- with three tournament wins in a week, Holy Name was the last team standing of all eight city high schools.
“Now we can hang [the trophy] on our wall and be like, ‘Yes, we won.’ Twenty years from now we can all reunite and say, ‘Remember that time we won the city tournament?’” said Danny Kegbeh, who pitched in 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“We’re all happy –- celebrate tonight and get ready for districts tomorrow,” Kegbeh added, denying with a laugh that anybody on the team would be found at the library after the game. “We’re all going to come out together, either hug each other, party or – you know, you know how you celebrate after a big win. There’s no studying tonight. Tomorrow we’ll be studying.”
Holy Name coach Jason Chavoor stressed the need to outwork the Guardians during practices, and his team exhibited a keen sense of retention during the first half. After scoring the last six points to end the first quarter with an 18-13 lead, the Naps held SPM scoreless for the first four minutes of the second frame to push the score to 25-13. When SPM guard Matt Mobley finally ended his team’s drought with a three-pointer four minutes before halftime, it was the star’s first bucket.
It was his first shot, too, and would be his only three points of the half.
Shots and points are tougher to come by when Anthony Hodges plays the role of shadow. Holy Name’s designated defensive stopper and one of the best perimeter defenders in the state, Hodges followed Mobley everywhere he went, denying passes and keeping Mobley uncomfortable.
The star scorer still finished with 21 second-half points and 24 for the game, enough to give him the Central Mass. scoring title. But he managed only 14 shot attempts, a testament that Hodges was stationed inches away from his shooting hand for most of the night.
“I just wanted it," Hodges said. "I didn’t want him to get too warmed up. Once he’s warmed up, he’s a hard player to guard, because he will shoot from anywhere –- anywhere on the court, he’ll shoot.
"Those screens are hard to get through because those dudes are big, they’re a big team. But it’s all about laying everything out there, trying to win the game for my team. I like challenges. I want to wear down the best player. He has to work hard if I’m ‘D-ing’ him up."
There was no specific strategy to defend Mobley, according to Chavoor. Just give the keys to Hodges and let him spin his web.
“We just leave it up to Anthony," Chavoor said. "He knows what he’s doing out there. This is his third time playing Matt. He’s also played a lot of good players on other teams, too -– from East Boston to Barrington, North Kingstown, St. John’s. He’s covered all the best players. He’s used to it."
Hodges led the defensive effort, but Holy Name thrived due to receiving contributions from all angles. Louisville controlled the game like a yo-yo in his steady hand, making the right decision on almost every touch. Tyler Delorey struck often from mid-range, pouring in 12 of his 20 points before halftime. Hodges kept Mobley from going off.
And Kegbeh – “on a great day I’m 6-foot-1, on an average day I’m 5-foot-11,” he said – controlled the glass on both ends, overpowering the taller Guardians.
“It’s just heart. You can’t explain it. You either want to do it or you can’t. I just want it more, and they obviously don’t want it more. I want it more,” Kegbeh explained.
His sentiment could have gone for the rest of his team, too. When Hodges wasn’t fighting over a flair screen to defend Mobley, he was battling against players half a foot taller on the glass. When Louisville wasn’t using his dribble to dart into the paint, he was sliding in a defensive stance to stay in front of SPM’s guards.
When Kegbeh wasn’t leaping to snatch a rebound, he was positioning himself for a possible carom. And Seamus O’Sullivan, the only Holy Name starter who does not average in double figures, always seemed positioned perfectly in the shadows ready to help his teammates when the opportunity presented itself.
“They’re undersized. They scrap. They claw. I have nothing but respect for what they do,” SPM coach Marcus Watson said.
The two teams have now played each other three times, and Friday’s five-point margin was the largest. The three meetings were decided by a combined eight points – Holy Name earned the first one 70-69 and SPM returned the favor in overtime 85-83. The third meeting followed a similar script as the second; back in late January, SPM trailed by 18 points before emerging with the overtime victory. But the third ending was not so charming for the Guardians.
SPM did not quit, perhaps remembering what happened in January. But the Guardians could not repeat the feat and conjure another improbable win. They are not quite as balanced as Holy Name, with Mobley clearly their centerpiece, and they struggled when he could not find his rhythm. Steve Flynn scored 11 points to join Mobley on the all-tournament team and Tre Watson added 10 points, but SPM did not mount a charge until Mobley worked himself free in the second half.
The Guardians could look back at the first half and kick themselves, especially when remembering the 22-10 rebounding deficit at halftime. But Watson prefers to focus on the future – the No. 2 seed in the Central Mass Divison I boys basketball tournament, SPM begins the playoffs on Thursday against the winner of Monday’s Shepherd Hill-Doherty matchup.
“We’ll be at practice at eight o’clock in the morning,” Watson said.
Holy Name will soon return to the practice floor, too. The Naps are now the Worcester city champions, and nobody will ever be able to take that title away. But as the No. 1 seed in Central Mass., the Naps host the winner of Fitchburg and Tantasqua on Thursday.
As Louisville’s uncle cautioned, there’s still work left to do.