MEDFORD, Mass. -- A year after Central Catholic shocked the Massachusetts basketball landscape by almost upsetting national power St. Anthony’s (N.J.) at the Shooting Touch Shootout, the two teams met for a rematch Friday.
It played out similarly to last year -- well, at least for a little while. Central came out firing on all cylinders, seemingly outplaying St. Anthony’s in the first half. However, it could not sustain the energy and the required level of play and lost 62-46.
Tyler Nelson, one of the few remaining Central (3-1) players who participated in last year’s game against St. Anthony’s, came out firing. He scored 15 of his team’s 19 first quarter points. St. Anthony’s was able to slow him down in the final three quarters by using a variety of half court traps and coverages to try to keep the ball out of his hands. He finished the game with 24 points, 12 of which came from beyond the three-point line.
“We gave up 19 points in the first quarter, that’s unheard of,” said St. Anthony (3-0) coach Bob Hurley. “Nelson had 15 of those, so that was like his personal highlight film. In the third quarter, we decided we were really going to trap him when he had it and deny it back to him when he didn’t. So we rotated Tarin Smith (10 points, 4 rebounds) most of the time, then we put Jagan Mosely (6 points) on him, and they really limited the amount of times he could make plays in the second half.”
Central took a 31-28 lead into halftime, but that evaporated less than 20 seconds into the third quarter off a Shaquille McFarlan three-point play.
From there, St. Anthony used its ball pressure to continue to force turnovers and stretch its lead farther on its way to victory. Markis McDuffie and Cheddi Mosely each had 13 points for St. Anthony’s.
“I’m proud of my guys,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “They battled hard. We had some bad turnovers there towards the end. I don’t think the score reflects the game. We were down seven with about six minutes to go. I thought we played hard. I thought we battled.”
New look, new feel: This year’s Central Catholic team is much different from last year’s team. No longer is Lucas Hammel manning the point guard position. In his place is freshman Kevin Fernandez. Nelson is now the elder statesman of the backcourt. Alec Buresh slides into the starting small forward spot because Joel Berroa graduated. Aaron Hall is now in charge of defending the post. He started in place of the now gradated Doug Gemmell last season while he was out with post-concussion symptoms.
Hurley, who is well-versed in defending young backcourts, decided it would be best to ramp up the pressure and apply full-court pressure to see if the young Central guards could handle it. His team was able to force their share of turnovers and turn them into easy layups.
“(Their youth) was something we needed to take advantage of,” said Hurley. “We needed to limit Nelson’s touches and see how those other kids responded to pressure. And they responded to pressure like young kids do. (Fernandez and Buresh) are a freshman and sophomore and they’re both going to be very good players, but they’re playing varsity level as young kids. You’re going to make your mistakes as a young kid playing at the varsity level.”
When they were not matching up man-to-man in the full court, they played a 2-2-1 press. At times Central struggled to get the ball over halfcourt against it. It wanted to quickly get the ball into the middle of the floor and force the St. Anthony’s defenders to crash on the ball, which would open up the wings to get a return pass and move the ball up the floor. The pressure forced Central into turnovers, whether it was steals or errant passes.
“I thought their press really changed the game,” said Nault. “We were up 10 early when they went to that. I thought it really took the ball out of Tyler’s hands and forced some of these young guys to make decisions with the basketball. That hurt us a little bit, but that’s part of the growing pains of a young team and we’ll get better.”
Desire for balance: One concern for Central Catholic moving forward is what happens or does not happen when the ball is not in Tyler Nelson’s hands. It is still very early in the season, but Central noticeably struggled when the Friars decided to make sure Nelson did not get the ball or could not do anything with the ball. It hopes as its young guards mature, that it will make its offense more multidimensional and effective, especially against other Merrimack Valley Conference teams.
“It is concerning because our seasoned guys like Nick Cambio and Aaron Hall have to step up,” said Nault. “I think knowing the mistakes that we made today against the press and knowing that Tyler can’t do it all, guys have to step up and that is absolutely key for us.”
No rest for the weary: There will be no holiday break now for Central. It gets right back on the court tomorrow night in the finals of the Commonwealth Classic against Merrimack Valley Conference rival Andover. It will have to learn from this loss and put it behind them since the Warriors present a whole new challenge for them.
“I thought this was a great learning experience for our young players,” said Nault. “I think it’s all valuable experience for them. Hopefully they learn from their mistakes and they grow from them. Hopefully that makes us better in the long run come tournament time.”
St. Anthony will be back at the Shooting Touch Shootout Saturday night to take on Charlestown.