NEWTON, Mass. -- Thirty-two minutes.
That was the lesson Newton North coach Paul Connolly screamed to his team as he put his starters back in the game during a timeout with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter and his team ahead ahead by 22 points.
It was what some would call a head-scratching move with the game seemingly in hand. However, he knew if his team wants to make a deep run in this years Division 1 South MIAA basketball playoffs, it has to realize that not every game will be like its 75-49 victory was Thursday over Marshfield.
“At this point in the season, playing in March, it’s a tough man contest,” he said after the game. “I thought we were the tougher team tonight.”
North (18-3) jumped out to an early lead behind intense ball movement and quality outside shooting from its guards. Both teams started the game with full-court pressure on the other, but North was successful in breaking the attempted trap defense and working the ball up the floor quick enough to find the open man who was vacated by the Marshfield (13-6) pressure.
Other times, Connolly would instruct his team to get the ball to one of the better ball handlers and then he told the rest of the team to clear out down the floor, taking the defense with them and leaving the ball handler one-on-one. That proved much easier to handle than a full team press.
One of those isolated players was Michael Thorpe, who finished the game with 21 points and six rebounds. Occasionally, after Thorpe got the ball in his hands, Connolly called isolation plays for him, which allowed him to dribble and maneuver his way into space, whether it be in the paint or on the perimeter.
“Coach sees mismatches and he calls them and when your number is called, you just have to play,” said Thorpe. “Everybody’s ready to step up when their number gets called.”
Marshfield tried everything to slow down the North attack, but nothing seemed to work. Whether it was a full-court press or a 1-2-2 zone, North just could not be slowed down.
“I thought the biggest thing for us was we were reacting to any change in defense they made,” said Connolly. “I knew (Marshfield coach Bob) Fisher was going to throw some things at us. He threw some man-to-man’s, some 1-3-1’s, some 1-2-1-1, run-and-jump, box-and-one, so we prepared for everything.”
The leading scorer for Marshfield was junior Alex White, who had 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Well-Rounded: An interesting statistic for the rest of Division 1 South top notice is that eight different North players scored Thursday night. Making the most of its bench will be key for the team as it moves forward and encounters teams that could potentially overwhelm them because of its lack of height.
“It’s wonderful knowing that one through eight can score,” said Thorpe. “It’s a big threat. Other teams can’t just sit down on one person, they can’t go box-and-one on one person because somebody’s going to step up and score. It’s a huge threat for us and makes a lot of teams worry when they play us.”
Sealing Them Off: While it had an explosive night offensively, North was also able to clamp down on Marshfield defensively and not allow them to get easy looks inside the paint. The Rams were able to get some short-range jump shots, but for a large portion of the game, it was only able to take perimeter shots or off-balance shots near the basket.
That, coupled with North’s ability to attack the glass, led to more scoring opportunities to take advantage of.
“Late in the season, we started to get away from our defense,” said Thorpe. “The last couple weeks of practice, we just always worked on our defense because that’s our staple. We came out and sent a message to the rest of the tournament by only letting up 49 points that we’re going to play defense this time.”
Up Next: Newton North, the No. 5 seed, will play the No. 13 seed New Bedford on Saturday. The Whalers knocked off No. 4 seed North Quincy tonight, 67-58.
With only one day of practice before game day, it would seem like Connolly’s team would be going into it blind since the teams did not play each other during the regular season. However, thanks to an experienced and forward-thinking coach, that is not the case.
“We’ve scouted everybody,” he said. “Everybody in Division 1 South, we have seen once, maybe twice. We’ve done our homework. I’ve been down this road before. We’ve done it before so we know what it takes. We do our homework and we do our job. I have an assistant coach, Tom McKniff, who has been at Newton North for 31 years, and he scouts everybody. He goes everywhere.”
He did not want to look too far down the road, though.
“We have one game, that’s it,” he said. “The best thing right now, as a coach in March, is to be able to go into the locker room and to tell your guys that you have practice tomorrow. On any given night now, one coach has to go in and there’s tears, and there’s long bus rides home. So it’s nice and we feel fortunate. We earned it, we deserved it, and I think we’re good enough to advance on. We have one more game and one more practice, so we’ll go from there.”