BOSTON -– It was raw emotion built up for two years, but as Brighton coach Hugh Coleman jumped up and down in pure excitement and hugged his players as they received their city championship trophy, it seemed as if a slight burden had been lifted off the coach’s shoulders.
Beating New Mission (14-6) 70-62 in the title game of the Boston City League tournament on Thursday night wasn’t just about Brighton (15-6) winning its first Boston City League championship -– an impressive accomplishment in its own right, it was vengeance on New Mission for the heartbreaking loss they handed Brighton two years ago in the Division 2 North championship game, a loss that was the toughest of Coleman’s career.
“The loss in the north final two years ago has not erased, I have not forgotten about it, I think it has fueled me,” Coleman said. “I felt like whoever won that game probably would have won a state championship that year, and New Mission went on to win it. I’m not healed from it, but this will help out a little bit.”
The recipient of several of Coleman’s celebratory hugs was tournament most valuable player Malik James, who played his best game of the season on perhaps the biggest stage, finishing with 21 points, eight assists, and six rebounds.
“This was a big stage, coach told me to be more aggressive, attack, rebound, and be a better all-around point guard. So I definitely wanted this, and I feel like I did all those things to help us get the victory,” James said.
After leading a tight first half battle 34-33, James played with an extra sense of urgency in the final two quarters. He wasn’t alone however, Brighton had four other players in double figures—Daivon Edwards (12 points), Nick Simpson (15 points), Mark Mojica (10 points), and Jason Jones (14 points, 16 rebounds).
Senior Nate Hogan didn’t do much in the coring column for Brighton, but the senior defensive specialist helped hold New Mission’s Juwan Gooding, one of the state’s best young scorers, to just 12 points.
“Nate Hogan, when we knocked Danvers, showed us that his man-to-man defense can change a game. We said that it’s a strength that we have, so lets use it,” Coleman said. “We knew Juwan is a good player, he’s a really good player. We didn’t say shut him down, we said stay in front of him, tire him, and make him take some tough shots. That was a huge key for us.”
Jones the X-factor: Only a sophomore, Jason Jones has cemented himself as one of the most promising young talents in the city. New Mission simply couldn’t hold him off the glass, Jones was relentless and at some points used his rebounding to dominate the tempo of the entire game.
A team that loves to attack the offensive glass, New Mission was for the most part unable to get the second and third chance scoring opportunities that they love. Jones also made his presence felt on the offensive glass, scoring 10 of his 14 points off of offensive rebounds.
“Basically, I just tried to be more aggressive on them and get inside position on them. That’s what coach always stresses, he tells me to get inside position,” Jones said, “Especially on the offensive glass, I felt like they weren’t really boxing me out, so I could just get around them and get putbacks and layups.”
Coleman praised James after the game for his play, but said Jones’ play inside was another big difference in what made Brighton the better team. His aggressiveness was contagious.
“Because he’s a sophomore, I didn’t expect much from him. But after the first New Mission game when he had like 14 and 13, I was like ‘whoa, this kid can play’," Coleman said. "And it’s funny, he’s had all of his best games of the year against New Mission.”
Leadership by James: As a sophomore last year, Malik James took the state by storm by leading Brighton all the way to the state finals—where they lost another close heartbreaker to Mahar in the state championship game. James struggled with his scoring early in the season, but appears to be in top form after winning the Boston City League tournament MVP. His development hasn’t just come in skill-form though -- Jones said James’ leadership is also mental.
“You could just tell with Malik, he just had a different mentality in the locker room and before the game. He was real serious, he just wanted to come out here and win,” Jones said. “He really plays his best against New Mission, that’s our rival. He came out aggressive early, he looked for me and Nick and our shooters--he really moved the ball.”
The seriousness of James’ preparation had a positive effect on the rest of his teammates, including the younger Jones, and that effect gives Coleman the confidence that his team will be able to make a run in what will be a rugged Division 2 North tournament. When Jones’ comments about James were relayed to Coleman, the coach flashed a proud grin.
“That’s beautiful, I love to hear that. That leadership is something that I require out of Malik as well as my seniors," he said. "To see Malik a lot more serious and focused, he came out with a different attitude, and that made a difference.”
Tournament time: Despite the loss, New Mission coach Cory McCarthy remains extremely confident that the Titans will be able to make a run in the tournament. The Titans have been mentioned among the state’s elite teams all season, and when they are at their best defensively, they are an extremely difficult opponent.
“They are the better team, whenever you beat a team three times in a year, you are the better team. We were a little off our game towards the end, which is uncharacteristic of us—and I think we got rattled because things didn’t go our way. Will we be in the state tournament and make a run?” McCarthy asked, his eyes widening, “Of course!”
With the state tournament just around the corner, Brighton couldn’t have picked a better time to be firing on all cylinders. At some points this season their play has been inconsistent, but in beating Danvers, South Boston, and New Mission in the last week, they showed they deserve to be considered a favorite to win the Division 2 championship.
Mark Mojica and Daivon Edwards are two of the most dangerous shooters in Boston, James and Nick Simpson give the Bengals two go-to scorers during crunch-time, while Jones and Prince Unaegbu give Brighton a dominant presence down low and on the glass.
“It’s confidence, it builds a lot of confidence," Coleman said. "A couple years ago, in the final, we were nervous because of [New Mission]. We had what it took to win, but we didn’t have the confidence. I know [New Mission’s] confidence is not going to go away, but it leaves an impression in their mind of ‘ugh, we have them again’ next time they see us.
“Winning City’s is a great honor for my players, for my coaches, and for our school. It’s something cool for the city -- there is a new champ in town.”
GIRLS' CHAMPIONSHIP: O'BRYANT 44, NEW MISSION 39
The Tigers captured their second City Championship in three seasons, and avenged last year's blowout loss to Fenway in the City Finals, with a hard-charging second half. O'Bryant senior forward Kiana Daley took home Tournament MVP honors after scoring a game-high 22 points in the win, giving her a 46-point two-game total.