BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It was another heated, scrappy and at moments tense battle between Boston City League rivals Brighton and New Mission, Thursday night.
Edged ahead by a 22-point second half performance from junior Malik James, host No. 17 Brighton boys' basketball (2-2, 1-1) grabbed its third straight victory against previously undefeated No. 4 New Mission (3-1, 1-1) with a 79-68 City League (Division A) triumph last night.
The regular-season winner of the formerly City South matchup has gone on to appear in the Division 2 state finals the past two years.
“Going into this season I thought we had somewhat of an identity especially (by) returning so many guys from last year,” said Brighton coach Hugh Coleman. “It did not seem to come out yet, but this game was definitely a good identity game for us. We really wanted to make a big deal of playing defense, playing hard and playing for each other.”
With junior Nick Simpson fouling out in the second half, the reigning Division 2 North champs rode James (29 total points) to a late victory. Simpson scored all 17 of his points in the first half, while both players grabbed four rebounds.
The Bengals outscored New Mission 15-2 in the final 3:38, including a 10-0 run. James prompted the rally by sandwiching a fade-away 10-footer along the baseline with a pair of free throws for six straight and a 70-66 Brighton lead with 2:30 remaining.
An assisted layup from junior Mark Mojica to sophomore Jason Jones put Brighton up 74-66 at 1:37, while Titans freshman Fred Rivers (12 points) battled underneath to cut the run at 74-68 seconds later.
“Coach told me to keep my head and keep attacking the rim,” said James. “I try to get the pick man involved and get everybody
“Unfortunately I think that one of the fouls on (Prince Unaegbu) went to Nick,” added Coleman.
Technicals hurt the Titans late. They committed two in the final three minutes and three total, all misconducts during ball scuffles in their own territory. A technical with 37.2 left prompted four straight fouls for New Mission; James sank free throws to seal the game at 79-68.
“All good teams need a solid leader on the court,” said Coleman of James. “Tonight was a very intense game and for him to step up with Nick (Simpson) was extremely important.”
Brighton had pulled ahead 56-46 with 1:30 left in the third off a defensive block turned into an assisted layup from Jones to James that finished an 11 point run for the Bengals. A corner of the arc trey by junior Shaquan Murray edged New Mission back ahead 60-59 with six minutes left in the game.
“We did not get to play as aggressive as we wanted to,” said New Mission coach Cory McCarthy. “(We want) to bang the ball inside (but) sometimes we settle for threes too much and that hurt us in the end. We could not stop there penetration.”
Despite a layup and a dunk by New Mission senior Nate Anderson that helped the Titans pull ahead 4-2 at 7:15 in the first quarter, Brighton went up 14 seconds later off a four shot technical effort by Simpson and did not trail for the next 13.5 minutes. Attacking the rim heavy in the first half, the Bengals scored 20 points either from the line or within the free throw lane to pull ahead 23-15 after one quarter.
“We try to look at what we have for guys and what their skill set is,” said Coleman. “Malik is really good off the dribble when penetrating, so we try to use that to our advantage. If they collapse now we can kick it out and get some open shots.”
Senior Sam Freeman produced three points by a drawing a foul on a layup and Murray tipped in an in-air pass from sophomore Juwan Gooding to cut New Mission's deficit to 29-28 with five minutes left in the second.
Six straight points, including a pair of foul shots by senior Chima Ebele (four points, seven rebounds) edged the Titans ahead 34-33 with 1:30 left in the first half.
“We had opportunities,” said McCarthy. “I think we will be in good shape. We gave the game away when we thought the game was over when Simpson fouled out.”
Tense Moments: Tension rose between the teams throughout the game with a few scattered verbal disputes occurring.
Brighton had 21 fouls and a technical, while New Mission made 33 fouls and three technicals.
Play stopped in the second half due to what appeared to be a verbal disagreement between the Brighton bench and the Titans' crowd. The Bengals were asked by the referees in the final seconds to send their bench players to the locker room to avoid any possible issues.
“The referees as well as the headmaster of our school thought that the game was getting really really intense,” said Coleman. “(The New Mission fans) were close to our bench so for safety reason the refs as well as the principal suggested that we not shake hands. We obviously always try to show good sportsmanship.”
A New Mission player also huddled up with the Brighton team in the final seconds of the game, but easily returned to his squad when asked by referees.
“Our emotions got the best of us,” said McCarthy. “That is uncharacteristic of New Mission. It is the nature of the beast (but) it is just a matter of how you maintain you temperament.”