ANDOVER, Mass. -– Sometimes, the sequel doesn’t live up to the original.
After Andover beat rival Central Catholic by four in the Commonwealth Motors Classic two weeks ago, the hype leading up to the rematch last night at Dunn Gym was huge.
The gym was packed midway through the junior varsity game, and Central made sure the home fans were silent before the fourth quarter even began. The Raiders held Andover to just 12 points in the second half and cruised to a convincing 58-37 win.
“We're a defensive team,” Central coach Rick Nault said. “We were embarrassed by our effort on December 28. We made it a point to come out and do what we do and we defend. We might not be the most smooth offensive team, but we defend at a high rate.”
Andover's E.J. Perry IV and Connor Merinder each had 11 points, but the rest of the team combined for just 15. Central's guard rotation of Tyler Nelson, A.J. Pettway, Alec Buresh, Kevin Fernandez, and Alex Santos wreaked havoc all night on defense. Santos marked Andover star David Giribaldi whenever both were on the floor. Giribaldi had seven points, his second-lowest point output of the season.
Central led from the tip but couldn't pull away in the first half. Seven-point leads would dwindle to two, be blown out to eight, and shrink back to three. Andover shot 9-of-11 from the free throw in the first half to keep it close, but the offense was out of sync from the start.
“We were too many individuals; we didn't play team basketball,” Andover coach Dave Fazio said. “I think everybody put a lot of it on their own shoulders, didn't trust each other. We didn't make shots. When you miss shots you start pressing, and every shot becomes a little more difficult. We didn't work cohesively together offensively. You've got to make shots to win games.”
With Central leading by four with 4:55 left in the third, the Raiders scored six points in 71 seconds to open up a 10-point lead. The Warriors were never able to close the gap back down.
Nelson, who was held silent for much of the first meeting, solved Andover's diamond-and-one defense on him in the second half and pumped in 11 of his 13 points in the final 16 minutes. His first field goal of the game ignited Central's run in the third quarter.
“It's frustrating when they play the box-and-one because you're taken out of the game no matter what you do, no matter how many screens you get,” Nelson said. “I talked to coach and came up with the gameplan to be a distributor tonight and then I knew later in the game I'd get my baskets eventually. I always score in games; I'm a scorer so it's what I do. Early in the game I just tried to be a distributor and get the guys the ball because that was where the advantage was.”
Nick Cambio had another stellar game at center, pumping in 17 points, pulling down nine rebounds, and registering a pair of blocks. He also altered numerous shots when Andover's guards drove the lane.
“Defensively we put the 2-3 zone on them,” Cambio said. “We threw everything we learned in practice at them and it worked very well.”
The rubber match will be Feb. 13 at Central Catholic.
CAN'T HOLD HALL BACK
As the center, Cambio almost always draws the attention of the opposition's best big. That leaves Aaron Hall room to roam and do damage. The 6-foot-6 senior was matched up against a rotating corps of Andover guards and torched them to the tune of 15 points, seven rebounds, and a block.
“I thought tonight we really utilized Aaron Hall,” Nault said. “He matched up with one of their guards. We play with two big guys and we have a mismatch in that post area. We went there early tonight. That was the key for us.
“I thought he was huge tonight. I thought he had a lot of big rebounds. It seemed like every time we needed a big play off the boards he was the guy. We've been pushing him in practice and he stepped up tonight.”
On the defensive end Hall matched up against Merinder, Perry, and senior John Pisacreta, and was up to the task despite playing against three different playing styles.
“He's the best defender on our team,” Nelson said. “He always covers the other team's best player. He was huge for us.”
Fazio said that playing against a player like Hall poses a matchup nightmare.
“You've got to kind of mix it up,” Fazio said. “When your four man is six feet and their four man is 6-7 you've got to kind of mix it up a bit.”