LAWRENCE, Mass. -– Erick Rosario was asked about his flammable night in the IAABO Board 130 Classic, a career-high 38 points on 13-of-19 from the field in a surprise 81-73 upset of No. 10 Springfield Central in Central Catholic's Memorial Gymnasium, and the shy Lynn English sophomore mumbled a few terse clichés.
But when the 5-foot-10 guard was asked about the team’s frenetic pace, and whether it was tiring (it wasn’t), his head coach Mike Carr couldn’t help but chime in from beyond his shoulder.
“Tell them about the stairs,” he said with a smile.
Rosario let out a giggle. “We go hard,” he said of the daily post-practice routine, an intense 10-minute session involving sprints up and down the four-story steps of his high school.
At times, the Bulldogs’ pace became more chuck-and-duck than run-and-gun. Other times, it was just plain blitzkrieg. All of it overwhelmed the Golden Eagles (15-3) more and more as the game wore on, turning a 35-31 halftime lead into double-digits as the forced turnovers and ensuing fast breaks continued to mount.
In all, the Eagles committed 37 turnovers for the game, unable to cleanly break the full court man-to-man press of the Bulldogs (14-5). Things began to unravel late in the third quarter, after Central’s Ju’uan Williams darted through the lane with a euro-step and completed a three-point play to tie it at 44.
The Bulldogs took a 54-51 lead into the final frame, and shot out of the gates with a 12-4 run to build a comfortable cushion. Fueling the run was the play of Rosario and junior Freddy Hogan, who combined for 10 steals in the final frame.
One particular sequence at the start of the fourth put them over the top. First, Central’s Josh Malone was trapped near the scorer’s table by Rosario, who then lobbed the ball downcourt to Hogan for an easy lay-in. The next time down, Hogan came up with a steal near the volleyball line and threw a quick dish to Rosario.
The next time down, Rosario shimmied a defender with a euro-step and foul, completing the three-point play. That was followed up with another Rosario strip-and-rip fast break layup, followed by an unforced error from Central for a 67-55 English lead with 5:03 to go.
“If we’re not playing that style, we’re not a very good basketball team,” Carr said. “I think we wore them down in the first half, with that style I don’t think they’re used to it, the up and down. We’re growing, we’re getting better as a team. We’re young. I just think it’s our style, it’s starting to make us a better basketball team.”
Central head coach Mike Labrie conceded that the pressure -– in particular, the on-ball pressure from Hogan and Rosario – was at a level they’re not accustomed to.
“We haven’t faced that kind of pressure all year,” he said. “So, I think this is a good experience for us. It’s kind of embarrassing, frustrating, but I think we’ll be better for it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that’s committed that many turnovers in a game. But you’ve got to give credit, they kept after it too. They didn’t get tired. We weren’t strong with the ball at all. We shot over 60 percent from the floor, so when we got shots up we were in good shape.”
Senior center Ben Bowden was the only other Bulldog in double-figures, with 16 points. Hogan turned in an impressive stat line otherwise, tallying seven steals and four assists, while sophomore guard Stevie Collins and junior forward Danny Lukanda pitched in with eight points apiece.
Central, dressing just nine players, had four of its five starters in double-figures. Senior wing Kamari Robinson led the Eagles with 22 points, while Cornelius Tyson (15), Ju’uan Williams (13) and his cousin Cody Williams (11) all played significant hands.
The Eagles’ fifth starter, 6-foot-8 sophomore phenom Chris Baldwin, had just seven points on 3-of-5 from the field, but was big on the defensive end. He totaled 15 rebounds -– all of them defensive -– and blocked five shots.
Running –- to a stand still: At times, the Bulldogs’ tempo resembled something from Paul Westhead’s famous “seven seconds or less” squads at Loyola Marymount, heaving long outlet passes upcourt immediately after a basket and wasting no time on the shot clock.
Other times, surprisingly enough, they were patient with the ball, running the clock down and working to get an open look. For all the talk of steal after steal, and frenetic speeds up and down the court, English also demonstrated patience in the half-court.
“It’s something we talk about, too. We run the flex quite a bit, and it’s a methodical offense,” Carr said. “It takes a while. Sometimes during the course of the season, because we’re so up and down, the first pass in the flex they shoot it. The last couple of days we’ve improved on that, and they did a great job today coming off screens.”
Running –- to a marathon: After each practice, Carr has his team run up and down the four flights of stairs in the school building, adding on to an already-heavy concentration on conditioning.
“Even our basketball drills, our first hour is up and down the court,” Carr said. “Every drill, we do man-to-man defensive drills…It’s just constant, we don’t stop for an hour, then we get our shooting in.”
That grueling routine paid off in games like tonight’s, where the backcourt looked like it could run all night. Hogan and Rosario were relentless in the Bulldogs’ full court man-to-man pressure, picking up their man immediately, staying on their hip and denying clean passes.
“This style, you give up layups, you give up open looks,” Carr said. “It’s more that we feel we wear teams down as the game goes. I feel we’ve had some success with that.”
Coming on strong: On paper, the Bulldogs figure to be a preseason favorite in 2013-14, with the graduation of just one player – Bowden, who is signed with Vanderbilt’s baseball program for next year. But lo and behold, since their Jan. 9 loss to Danvers , they have won 10 of their last 11 games, the lone blemish a one-point loss to Beverly.
That Danvers loss put the Bulldogs at 4-4 on the season. One month later, they’re looking at potentially a No. 6 seed in a loaded Division 1 North bracket, good enough to earn a first-round home game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of where we’ve come from the beginning of the season to now,” Carr said. “I said at the beginning of the season, we’re a young team and we’ll get better. Over the last week or two, it’s been a steady progression. I think our tempo, and everyone’s understanding of what we want, is why we’re starting to have success.”
Up Next: With the win, Lynn English moves on to Monday's finals against St. John's Prep, which survived a late rally from Central Catholic in the nightcap before a capacity crowd, 64-62. The boys final goes down at 7:15 p.m. and will conclude the two-day tournament. Springfield Central will face Central Catholic in the consolation game, at 3:45 p.m.