CHARLESTOWN, Mass. -- It was a physical contest to open the loaded Boston City North slate for both squads. But more importantly, at least for New Mission, it was an ugly contest.
History shows that when New Mission is "playing ugly" like they did in their 2010-11 state championship season, they tend to win. So while the No. 4 Titans' 87-60 win over a green Charlestown squad was full of turnovers and fouls, it was also full of floor burns, hard elbows and overall just getting nasty with one another.
Just how head coach Cory McCarthy likes it.
"If you remember my previous season [2010-11], we've never been pretty," McCarthy said, alluding to his 2011 MIAA Division 2 state champion squad. "Last year, I think we got a little too pretty, trying to do cute things like hit three's off of curls and stuff like that. So I think this year, we just got dirty again. We scratched, scathed and clawed again. That's New Mission basketball."
At the same time, there was something organic about the Titans (2-0) when sophomore point guard Juwan Gooding (23 points, five 3-pointers, seven rebounds) was in his element. The 6-foot Dorchester resident accounted for the Titans' first 11 points, including back-to-back-to-back three-pointers, to kick things off and put the Townies (0-1) in hurry-up mode early.
"I was just feeling it," Gooding said of the opening minutes. "I had my stroke going. When I hit one, I just thought I'd keep going."
At the other end, Gooding at times brought frenetic energy, meeting the ballcarrier at half-court and tried to pin him to the sideline, keeping his arms and hips active in an effort to try and jar the ball loose. Towards the end of the first quarter, this led to an easy breakaway layup by Shaquan Murray (14 points) that made it 17-10. Gooding finished with four steals total.
That defensive mentality -- harrass your man, invade his personal space, make him uncomfortable -- has permeated for years. But on this night, Gooding's hot hand from the outside was just as contaigious.
The Titans hit 11 three-pointers in all, seemingly none more important than the back-to-back sequence that made it 60-42 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter. First, Percio Gomez (11 points) caught a sideline inbounds pass from Murray at the right elbow, then immediately kicked it back to Murray, who had strafed towards the corner. The next time down, Gomez took the ball at the right wing and drove deep baseline, kicking back out to Gooding for the 18-point advantage.
Mission closed the third quarter leading 71-45, after Gomez was award three free throws at the buzzer, having nailed five 3-pointers in that stanza alone. Six-foot-4 junior Fred "Bam" Rivers provided some muscle underneath, coming up with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Charlestown got a bulk of its production from 6-foot-6 transfer juniors Freddy Oliveira (15 points, eight rebounds) and Allijah Robinson (11 points, eight rebounds).
Breaking the Zone: Charlestown broke out of a midseason slump last year by switching to a 2-3 zone (for seemingly the first time in school history), and rode that all the way to a Division 1 Eastern Mass. championship berth at TD Garden. Head coach Edson Cardoso says he still plans to mix things up between zone and man this season, but early on the Townies had some great possessions in the 2-3 zone defense, getting deflections up top from Robinson and Jimmy Edwards, as well as junior Taris Wilson.
Yes, the Titans attacked the zone with perimeter shots, hitting 11 three's. But on some nights, perimeter shots is not how you beat the zone -- sometimes, that's how the zone beats you. Mission, however, turned it on Charlestown by throwing some 2-3 offense right back at them.
"Most teams set up in a 1-3-1 against a 2-3, we run a 2-3 against a 2-3," McCarthy said. "We bring the three against the two, so we just go odd-even, our odd against their even, and then we just weave them. Then eventually, we duck a big in and throw it over the top, and we have isolation. So, that helps us playing against man or zone.
"For me, I struggled last year trying to figure out how our offense works. I think we have something that works, because I have such smart guys in the high post -- Chima [Ebele], Fred [Rivers], Nate [Anderson] when he's healthy. We're versatile, and we're not the same team as last year."
Anderson easing back: Six-foot-7 senior center Nate Anderson has been slowly making his way back into the lineup, after being hamstrung the last week or so with an ankle sprain. Tonight, he got most of his minutes late in the game and nearly unnerved McCarthy when he went up for a dramatic tomahawk dunk in transition, missed, and hit the floor hard with a hard foul.
A few possessions later, Anderson broke to the top of the key for a deflection and steal, then broke away for a thunderous one-handed slam, drawing a wild reaction from the crowd with about two minutes to go in the game.
"Nate sideline to sideline is just disruptive," McCarthy said. "And he has it now, he has the passion now."
Bridges remains out: Sophomore point guard Greg Bridges remains out of the lineup, and McCarthy says the 5-foot-7 spark plug isn't even practicing with the team right now.
Bridges started as a freshman last season for the Titans, and built up some hype for 2012-12 after an explosive showing at AAU Nationals last July, reportedly hitting 11 three-pointers in one game.
"He needs to take some time off, that's all," McCarthy said.
And the reason?
"Nothing really, other than to really focus on his future -- and he has a future," McCarthy said. "And we want to make sure we secure a future for him. He's a good kid, he just has to have some maturity."
The next Rony? Cardoso was asked about the play of Gooding, and he brought up a familar name in Townie basketball folklore -- Rony Fernandez, the point guard who catalyzed the Townies to their first North sectional title since 2005 last March, and subsequently was named to ESPNBoston.com's MIAA All-State Team.
"He reminds me of Rony a little bit," Cardoso said. "Similar game, you know, Rony could shoot from deep, Juwan can handle it...He's a tough matchup, he's going to hurt a lot of teams."