DANVERS, Mass. -– With it being Super Bowl Sunday, Massachusetts high school basketball had its own Super Bowl of sorts with No. 7 St. John’s Prep hosting No. 1 Central Catholic in a non-conference battle.
The Prep (15-1) was able to withstand a furious fourth quarter comeback from Central Catholic (13-3) and hang on to win 55-52 in front of a standing room only crowd at the Memorial Gym on the Danvers campus.
“Nothing can be easy when you play Central,” said Prep coach Sean Connolly, whose team led by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter. “You can never get a lead on them because they are always so tough fighting to come back. We knew we had our work out for us. We knew when we were up 12 and 14 points that team never goes away.”
Trailing 53-42 midway through the fourth quarter, Central went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to just one with under a minute remaining in regulation, aided by two critical misses on the front ends of one-and-ones by the Prep.
Taking the ball out of bounds at half court and leading by one with 26.1 seconds left, Connolly appeared to call a time out for the Prep, but the referee called a five-second violation, giving the ball to the Raiders with a chance to take the lead and potentially the win.
Central ended up by getting the ball underneath the basket with 13.4 seconds remaining, still trailing by one, but threw the ball away, allowing for Prep senior Drex Costello to scoop up the lose ball and get fouled with 11 seconds left in the game.
Costello made one of two free throws, putting the Prep up 54-52 and one last chance for Central. A desperation runner in the lane rolled off the rim, with Prep sophomore Ben Judson grabbing the rebound and getting fouled with two seconds remaining on the clock.
His free throw iced the game and gave the Prep a three-point victory.
“We didn’t execute as well down the stretch as we would have liked, but overall I am definitely happy with the performance,” Connolly said.
The Prep led entire game, jumping off to a 7-0 run to open the game and a 16-10 lead after the opening eight minutes. The Eagles extended their lead to eight at the half, 32-24, and had the same eight-point advantage, 46-38 going into the fourth.
“They are a solid team,” said Central Catholic coach Rick Nault. “They really don’t have a weakness, one through five. They have five guys who can do a lot of things. Ben Judson, 6-foot-4, and as a three-man is pretty effective and then two guards who I’ve said is the best backcourt I’ve seen all year. They really hurt us tonight. They were aggressive with the ball and played with a ton of confidence.”
It was a balanced scoring attack from the Prep, which guided them to victory as three players reached double-figures in points.
“I think everyone who got in gave us good minutes, I think it was more of a team effort,” Connolly said. “It wasn’t one guy who stood out more than the others.”
Costello led the Eagles with 13 points, followed by senior Tyler Dooley who finished with 11. Junior Max Butterbrodt added 11, nine coming in a two-minute stretch in the second quarter.
Central’s scoring came only from their starting five, led by senior Joel Berroa who had a game-high 18 points. Juniors Nick Cambio and Tyler Nelson finished with 14 and 10 respectively.
The Raiders have now lost two of their last three games, following a loss to North Andover last Tuesday night. This is unfamiliar territory for Nault and his team, who were without senior captain Doug Gemmell
“I’m not used to being in this position,” he said. “Three losses at this point in the season is something new for us and we have to figure out a way. We have a tough stretch coming up with teams that we are playing and we have to figure out a way to win.”
The Eagles return to the court Tuesday night at Xaverian in a Catholic Conference matchup, while the Raiders will host Lawrence, also on Tuesday night.
This won’t be the only meeting of the year between the two powerhouses, as they will meet again in two weeks, Sunday, Feb. 17 at Central Catholic in the IAABO Tournament, which figures to be another classic.
DOOLEY RUNS THE SHOW
Although he might not always lead the team in points or be the player opponents focus on, Prep point guard Tyler Dooley is what makes his team go. The senior’s court awareness and composure has been instrumental in the Eagles’ success this year. He has now even begun to be an offensive scoring threat, something he shied away from earlier in the year.
“He did a very job for us, especially the last few weeks,” Connolly said. “He has really taken his game to a new level being more of a threat for us, which is what we need obviously.”
As the teams’ only real true point guard, Dooley is one of the Prep’s biggest keys in their season thus far and down the stretch going into tournament time.
STEPPING UP ON DEFENSE
Senior Drex Costello led the Prep with 13 points, but the job he did on the defensive end may have been even more impressive. Costello was on Central’s star guard Tyler Nelson the entire game.
Costello held Nelson to a quiet 10 points, eight of which came from the foul line as a result of fast breaks. The Prep star did a very nice job of making things uncomfortable for Nelson in the half court, taking him off his game.
“Costello is our best defender on the opponents guards. I think he did a pretty good job,” said Connolly. “His main thing was to just concentrate and try not to let him get off. He’s a very good player so it is hard, but I thought he did a good job.”