NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Down goes number one.
North Andover surprised everyone at Howard Crozier Gymnasium with a comeback for the ages after being down 18 points in the third quarter to stun Central Catholic, 58-52, in a battle of Merrimack Valley Conference Large division heavyweights on Tuesday night.
Isaiah Nelsen led the way with 20 points, while Derek Collins started the downward locomotive that was the Scarlet Knights in the fourth quarter with a halfcourt buzzer-beater to cut the lead in half to nine at the end of the third quarter.
Nelsen was 5-of-6 from the floor in the fourth quarter and banked in a deep 3-pointer to put North Andover up 55-52 with less than a minute remaining on the clock, and the Scarlet Knights scored the final 14 points of the ballgame to get to within a game of the Raiders in the MVC Large.
The Scarlet Knights roll to 11-2, while the Raiders drop to 13-2 on the season. This marks Central's first loss to an in-state opponent since last March, when they fell to Charlestown in the Divsion 1 North semifinals.
“We had two great days of practice beforehand and tonight we just wanted it more than they did,” said Nelsen. “We had a great fan section, coach (Mike McVeigh) did a great job tonight and we came to play. That’s why we got the W.”
Things were bleak for the Scarlet Knights when the Raiders went up 18 after a Doug Gemmell lay-in late in the third quarter. But North Andover rattled off nine straight points to cut the lead to nine and give itself a chance at a comeback.
The Raiders were throwing all kinds of pressure at the Scarlet Knights in the first three-plus quarters in the backcourt with Tyler Nelson, Joel Berroa and Mike Barry disrupting the ball-handler. In the fourth, the Scarlet Knights just found a way around it, instead of fighting a great stretngth of the Raiders.
Nelsen and the rest of his teammates shot 80 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter, while the Raiders struggled with turnovers down the stretch as well as their shots, finishing 3-of-11 from the floor in the deciding quarter.
Collins drove the baseline and muscled in a basket to tie things at 52 with about two minutes remaining in the game. Nelsen was unsuccessful on a straightaway 3-pointer with more than a minute on the clock, but guard John Enright snuck in for the offensive rebound —- a place the Raiders held a 15-6 advantage -— to keep possession.
Brett Daley found Nelsen deep behind the three-point line on the right wing, and Nelsen just had to let it fly with the shot clock winding down, and it was true off the glass (even though there was no way of knowing if he called it or not).
“I try to make that part of my game,” Nelsen said of the outside shooting. “Coach tells me to keep shooting it and I’ve been working on my shot all throughout the summer. I’ve always been a good 3-point shooter. Obviously they weren’t falling in the first half, but I definitely take them again.”
COLLINS CHANGES MOMENTUM
It might not have looked like much in a nine-point game with Central Catholic seemingly in charge, but the Collins heave at the end of the third changed the complexion of this game.
Sometimes all you have to do is see a ball go through the hoop, no matter how much luck was involved, to get a team going. That certainly was the case last night for North Andover.
“That just completely changed the momentum of the game,” said Nelsen. “(Collins) hit that shot and the fourth quarter was ours the whole way.”
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” added Central Catholic head coach Rick Nault. “Sometimes it bounces for you and sometimes it doesn’t. They were outstanding tonight, so you have to give them all the credit.”
Nault was missing one of his best perimeter defenders on Tuesday night, as Lucas Hammel sat out with a right thigh contusion. Nault said he is hoping to get Hammel back in the fold within a week.
Hammel won’t grab all the attention, but he is a critical part to what the Raiders want to do defensively. He consistently pressures the ball, much like Berroa and company did tonight, and allows Nelson to play off the ball a little more when they are teamed up in the backcourt.