Recap: No. 11 Lowell 61, No. 8 Andover 54

ANDOVER, Mass. -- It happened again.

No. 11 Lowell came from behind to beat No. 8 Andover when the two teams met Jan. 4. The same thing happened Friday, this time by outscoring the home team 27-15 in the fourth quarter to come away with a 61-54 victory in a hotly contested Merrimack Valley Conference contest.

Lowell (14-2) started out awfully sluggish in the first quarter, stuck with only three points for the first six-plus minutes. Luckily for the Red Raiders, Andover (11-4) had difficulty adjusting to the various zone schemes Lowell threw at it, and ended the quarter up only 13-6.

“I thought the ball was sticking in our hands, and everything was on the perimeter,” said Lowell coach Scott Boyle. “So we weren’t moving the ball, we were shooting on the perimeter, and we were only getting one type of shot ourselves, and they weren’t quality shots. We just tried to tell the kids let’s get to the basket, let’s move the ball, look inside, get to the rim, and things started to turn for us in the second quarter.”

Things did start to turn around for Lowell in the second. While the three wasn’t exactly falling as much as it would have liked it to, its defensive pressure started creating turnovers at the other end of the floor, which brought transition opportunities and free throws as other ways to create points while its shots were not falling.

Throughout the game, Lowell threw varying defensive pressures at Andover, just like it did when they played four weeks ago. A combination of 2-3 zone and 2-1-2 zone looks forced Andover to swing the ball around the perimeter, when it wanted to go inside to Sam Dowden (10 points, three rebounds) and attack the basket.

“In practice, we think about games in the past that we played against them,” said Lowell guard Jonathan Perez (21 points, nine rebounds). “Every year, we play against (Andover coach Dave) Fazio, and we know his system a lot, so in practice, we know what he’s going to do against our zone, or what plays he’s going to run against our man defense.”

Lowell took its first lead midway through the third quarter, but Andover took it right back with defensive pressure of its own. It switched from a man-to-man full-court press to a 1-2-1-1 full court press, which was designed to force the Raiders to make bad decisions by dribbling into traps at different points on the floor.

The Raiders started the fourth quarter down by five, but eventually took a double-digit lead against a team that just couldn’t seem to keep up anymore. It left the coaching staff and home crowd flummoxed as to how the game could get away like that.

“I think we just made some horrific decisions with the ball,” said Fazio. “I don’t know. When it’s raining like that and you want to call a timeout and only have 60 seconds to fix the situation, I don’t know. They got us. They got us. Plain and simple.”

From Downtown: As was the case in the teams’ first meeting, the important theme that came out of Friday’s game was outside shooting. Because Andover isn’t the tallest team in Division 1, it relies on its jump shooters to put points on the board. When those shots aren’t falling or they are being contested, life can can sometimes get difficult for the Golden Warriors.

That happened at times Friday. They were shooting well to start and ended the first quarter with a 13-6 lead. In the second, as those shots became more contested and the shooters got cold, Lowell was able to corral rebounds and start the ball back the other way for scoring opportunities. Because of that, the two teams went into the half tied.

In the fourth and deciding quarter, Andover struggled to get a consistent flow offensively. Over a four-minute stretch in the middle of the quarter, Lowell went on a 13-2 run to give itself an 11-point lead with a minute and a half to go. From there, Andover was forced into long-range shots to make up the deficit, and Lowell knew it. This lead to a lot of rushed shots, missed opportunities, and an emphatic Drew Healy dunk to cap off the victory.

“We held them to one shot (in the fourth), and they were contested shots,” said Boyle. “When we can do that, hold a team to contested shots, we can get out and run. We got up the floor. So it was nice to see. We did a few good things there.”

Andover coach Dave Fazio was flummoxed after the game as to how his team could surrender another lead to the same team, merely weeks later.

“They distracted us, for whatever reason, on offense,” he said. “Our turnovers are so loud, that they’re getting run-outs with those turnovers. Now, not only are we not getting a shot, but they’re getting a transition basket and we’re fouling and putting them on the foul line. We were up seven in the fourth. I’m frazzled, I’m totally frazzled.”

Perez shines: Lowell got a standout performance Friday from Jonathan Perez. While the senior guard is not the tallest player on the floor (he’s listed at 6-foot), he plays much bigger than he is. Occasionally this season, his team has gone with a smaller lineup because of either injuries or the big men have been in early foul trouble, which forced him into an unconventional power forward role. The senior is not afraid to get physical under the basket, and will go up against an opposing team’s taller players if necessary.

“Coach is always pushing me in practice,” he said. “The past four years, he is always on me about rebounding and playing on the defensive end, so I have to step up as a captain of the team and do all the little things to win the game.”

Friday, with 6-foot-7 Drew Healy starting the game on the bench while coming back from an injury, Perez had to be a force on the offensive and defensive glass for his team, and he was throughout the game.

He finished the game one rebound short of a double-double (21 points, nine rebounds).

“Before in the past, it was scoring (with Perez),” said Boyle. “Tonight he probably lead our team in rebounding. He drove and got to the rim, he scored, he got 50-50 balls. He’s become a well-rounded player. In the past, he wasn’t that guy, but I think he has been from Day 1 this year. He’s very well-rounded and takes pride in those other parts of his game.”