NEWTON, Mass. –- Newton North (7-1) led by as many as 14 points early in the second half, but visiting Braintree (5-3) would not go away. The Wamps chipped away at the Tigers lead and, with four minutes remaining in the game, tied things up at 47-47.
That was when Tommy Mobley and the Tigers finally put away their Bay State Conference rival.
Mobley scored 10 points in the final four minutes and the Newton North defense clamped down to spark a 14-0 run that broke things wide open and allowed the Tigers to pull out a 66-56 victory in a Sunday afternoon matinee.
“It’s kind of night and day from the way we closed the other day against Brookline,” said Newton North head coach Paul Connolly, referring to the Tigers struggles in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 60-48 loss.
After Braintree senior Chris Redington knocked down a jumper to tie the game, the Tigers needed a spark and got it from Mobley. The junior captain buried a three-pointer, one of six shots he hit from beyond the arc in the game, and then found sophomore Nate Hollenberg for a three, before burying another one of his own. He finished with a game-high 27 points, including 13 in the fourth.
Connolly credited a switch on the defensive side of the ball for sparking the closing run that clinched the victory for the Tigers.
“We’re not really known for our zone, we’re typically man-to-man, but the guys adjusted well to play a little bit of zone to keep them off-balance a little bit,” he explained. “We made some big plays. We had a big charge at the end and we got some big defensive rebounds, which is key.”
Down 32-20 at halftime, Braintree came out of halftime with a zone look on defense to try and slow down the Tigers offense and sophomore guard Keyshaad Dixon caught fire to help bring the Wamps back. Dixon buried a trio of deep, pull-up three-pointers, and personally outscored Newton North 11-9 in the quarter.
As good as Dixon’s effort in the third quarter was it was the switch to zone that both coaches mentioned as a turning point. It limited the Tigers’ ability to get the ball into the post to senior Ezekial Fransisco, who finished with 16 points, but 10 came in the first half.
Braintree head coach Robert Crook noted, “I think when we went zone it just changed the tempo of the game a little bit. I don’t think you typically go zone against a team that shoots the ball as well as Newton North, but I was looking for something to change the speed of the game.”
Connolly added, “Teams don’t necessarily go zone against us because I really think we have some good weapons on the perimeter. They stifled us a little bit. We got a little stagnant.”
The Tigers struggles continued early in the fourth quarter with Braintree forward Steve Leary knocking down a jumper and finding Tim Miller for a wide open lay-up to make it 42-41. Mobley knocked down a three to get the lead back to four, but Redington (12 points) hit a pair of pull-up jumpers to tie the game.
Connolly fully expected that his experienced players would find a way to finish off the game.
“I have guys like Liam Bruno, Jack Boucher, Tommy Mobley and they’re [all] three-year varsity guys,” he reflected. “They’ve played over 50 games for me now. So, I told them during one of the timeouts -– figure it out. They’re switching defenses...and those guys are my three captains, they need to figure it out.”
The one guy that Newton North could not stop was Dixon. The sophomore kept Braintree hanging around in the final minute with three pull-up jumpers from well beyond the arc and of increasing difficulty. He finished with 26 points, 20 of them in the second half.
“He’s our leader with the ball,” said Crook. “He shot better today than he’s shot lately, but he’s still the guy we want to have the ball making decision late in the game.”
Coming off the loss to Brookline on Friday, Connolly was pleased with the reaction from his team and the effort that it demonstrated.
“It was a good game for us. We don’t lose many games and, when we do, the guys were a little sluggish, a little down after the game on Friday, but they did a great job responding.”