NEWTON, Mass. -- Early on, Newton North star Tommy Mobley just couldn’t get into rhythm shooting the basketball. The junior missed his first five shots and finished just 3-for-14 shooting in the first half.
Even with the slow first half start, Mobley still connected on a trio of 3-pointers before halftime, including a buzzer beating heave from about 60 feet as time expired in the second quarter. He added for free throws before the break, and went to the half with a game-high 13 points and the Tigers leading 25-23.
“Jack (Boucher) and Liam (Bruno) were giving me great passes in the first half,” said Mobley. “I had good looks, the shots just weren’t falling. I got fouled on a three, and then hit that lucky three-quarter shot, and that kind of took me into the second half with some confidence.”
The three-quarters court bank shot to end the first half seemed to ignite something inside of Mobley, who stroked a three-pointer in the opening minute of the third. On the next possession, he slid out to NBA range and knocked down another, this time with a hand in his face, to kick-start a second half surge that would Newton North cruise to a 68-54 win over their Bay State Conference foe.
“He struggled shooting early, but he kept shooting and I told him to keep shooting,” said Newton North coach Paul Connolly. “He’s done it before for us, and tonight was a great example of why we want him to keep shooting.”
He made five of his six third quarter field goals, including going 4-for-4 from three-point land, as he tallied 14 of his game-high 32 points for the Tigers (10-1). Before all was said and done, Mobley made eight 3-pointers in the win.
“I don’t think we could have defended him any better,” said Wellesley coach Glen Magpiong. “He hit some really tough 3’s out there -- shots that were contested. He had one, maybe two open looks, and he just hit the shots.”
With Mobley catching fire in the second half, Wellesley (8-3) had to go all in on trying to stop him.
“It really opened things up for them,” said Magpiong. “One play, you try to go face guard, and now it becomes a four-on-four game, and they’re smart enough to run sets that play right into that. That’s not how we like to play defense though. We don’t play defense clinging, so after he hit another we wanted to go back to how we usually play defense.”
As the Raiders tried to figure out the best defensive schemes, Newton North point guard Liam Bruno went to work making them pay. Bruno, who finished with seven assists, made sure Wellesley wouldn’t forge any kind of comeback as he repeatedly found the open Tiger.
“I think Tommy is the best shooter in the state, so when he gets hot, you really just have to get him the ball,” Bruno said. “It opens up a ton of floor space because they’re throwing at least two defenders at Tommy or play box-and-one on him. Our coach says if another teams goes box-and-one on Tommy, that it’s disrespectful to our other players and that’s our chance to step up.”
Added Boucher: “When they go box-and-one, it’s like ‘OK, it’s time to make them pay.’”
Often times that open Tiger was Ezekial Francisco, who poured in all 10 of his points after halftime. When Wellesley tried to slow Francisco down low, Bruno found a wide open Sam Jefferson, who buried a pair of second half threes as part of a 10 point night.
The Tigers, who qualified for the Sectional tourney for the 25th straight year with the win, also got a solid contribution from Boucher (seven points, six rebounds) on both ends of the floor.
“Jack and Liam did a great job penetrating,” Mobley said. “Ezekial was huge in the second half. Zeke was just like me, he had a hard time finishing in the first half, but he finished everything after halftime. Sam Jefferson was another guy who was huge for us because he gives us another guy who can really hit the three. Sometimes, the guy out face guarding me, doesn’t even see Sam’s 3-pointer go in.”
Raiders Rising: While Mobley’s hot hand may have Newton North to a double digit win, everyone in the gym took notice of how well Wellesley played them.
“To be down two at half after he hit that half court shot, it was anyone’s ball game,” said Magpiong. “That’s a good team right there and I’m really proud of how tight my guys played them tonight.”
Added Connolly: “That team is tough. They’re a force and they’re one of the best teams in our league. This was a typical Bay State rock fight early. We got some momentum at halftime with Tommy hitting that 60-footer from beyond halfcourt.”
Joe Roberts tallied 12 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds.
“That kid absolutely plays beyond his height,” said Magpiong. “That kid has come a long way. He’s a guy who a ‘B’ player, if you will, all through youth and now he’s an ‘A’ player. Could you imagine if we had all kids like Joey?”
Added Mobley: “He works his butt off. That kid is animal out there.”
Point guard Aidan James had a strong showing for the Raiders as well, netting 19 points to go with four steals and four assists. He was held without points for the entire third quarter (but scored nine in the fourth), allowing North to expand it’s lead.
“At halftime, we spoke and coach asked us what we thought of Aidan James and I think at the same time we all responded ‘very good player,’” said Mobley.
Added Boucher: “The key was stopping the ball early because he’s like to push the ball right away and get down low with it. We wanted to push him to one side and have good help defense.”
Both teams will be back in action Saturday at the Good Sports Invitational at TD Garden, with Wellesley tipping off against St. John’s Prep at 11:30 a.m., and Newton North squaring off against cross town rival Newton South at 7 p.m.