CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- When the night was done, Cambridge head coach Lance Dottin was asked if his star junior's point total -- 43 of them, in a 74-67 defeat of Everett -- was a career-high. The look he shot back was one of disbelief, as if to say, You're kidding me, he had that many?
Isaiah McLeod, the Falcons' unassuming off-guard, made it look all too easy as Cambridge (8-3) delivered its fierce rivals their first loss of the season, and salvaged a split of the season series in its final year of Greater Boston League membership.
Perhaps that's why Dottin then declared in the post-game that nights like these could become routine.
"I know this sounds strange, but he's capable of doing that every night," Dottin said. "He's a very, very good shooter. Isaiah is a great shooter, great ballhandler. He turned away a couple of shots that he probably shoulda took, [and] his coach is going to talk about that right now in the locker room. But, you know, Isaiah's probably one of the best-kept secrets around.
"He's a guy that works every single day, comes with a business-like attitude. Comes with a keen focus. I'm hoping maybe this game will open some eyes, especially the scholarship schools, because I believe he's a scholarship player."
The 6-foot-1 McLeod finished 14-of-21 from the field, including a 6-for-7 mark in the second quarter. He also went 12-of-14 from the free throw line, which included a 10-for-12 clip in the fourth as the Crimson Tide (10-1) mounted their comeback attempt.
"It's a Hell of a feeling, it's a real good feeling," McLeod said of his night. "It's just a sigh of relief, it's finally over. We were talking about this game in school all day."
McLeod felt he was onto something early when, in the midst of a quick Cambridge run, he took a long outlet from forward Fredens Deneus (13 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks) for a breakaway and took a hack on the way up as he sliced his defender with a dawdling Eurostep. As he turned to the free throw line to complete the three-point play, teammate Jakigh Dottin screamed at him "Let's get it!"
And did he ever get it. McLeod scored 14 points in the second quarter, giving him 25 for the half on just 16 attempts from the floor, as the Falcons outscored Everett 24-9 for the stanza to take a 45-33 halftime lead. McLeod capped the blitzkrieg with two impressive looks, first finishing a drive with his left for the and-one, then sinking a three from a few feet behind the arc with a hand directly in his face.
That double-digit halftime lead evaporated quickly, as the Tide -- considered one of the state's best pressing teams this season -- heated up the ball with their blend of man-to-man and diamond trap full-court pressure. The Falcons' lead dwindled to 58-54 by the end of the third quarter, and the Tide eventually tied it up at 60 with a Rodwell Blanc put-back early in the fourth. Gary Clark then tied it at 62 with 4:34 to go after putting back a Lubern Figaro shot that was initially swatted by Deneus.
The Falcons outscored the Tide down the stretch 12-5 to put the game away, mostly by putting the ball in the hands of their best shooter -- McLeod -- and forcing trips to the free throw line.
Timmance McKenney led Everett with 22 points, while junior Gary Clark added nine and sophomore Ernie Chatman had nine.
Deneus the defensive difference: Tonight, there was a stark contrast between how Cambridge's defense looked with Deneus on and off the court. On the court, the Falcons were able to funnel things down to the 6-foot-7 Deneus, who looked unafraid to throw around his athletic frame with a bit of testiness. Deneus has an impressive vertical leap for someone his size, which on this night allowed him to outjump then outmuscle Everett forwards for rebounds, or close late on a drive with a block.
One of his more impressive sequences of the night came early in the second quarter. First, Deneus delivered a pump-fake on the left block then shed a defender over his back as he went up to complete the lay-in. Then at the other end, he stuffed a layup attempt for his first of six blocks, leading to a fast break the other way for Malik Hill.
The next trip down, Deneus hucked a 50-foot outlet pass after hauling in the rebound, getting the hockey assist on a nice dish from Jakigh Dottin to Demetrius Woodson. The Falcons repeatedly got numbers down the court on fast breaks thanks to long outlets, beating the Tide back to their own end of the floor, and this was one of many examples in the second quarter.
Deneus finished off an impressive quarter with the highlight play of the night, smashing home a two-handed dunk in the open court to make it 42-31 just before halftime.
"Fredens, that's what he does," Lance Dottin said. "He's obviously going to change some shots, most important he's a rebounder. He cleans that glass, and I'd like him to get more rebounds, keep that ball in his hand. For us, he's a huge presence at 6-foot-7 and he's very athletic, as you saw from the monster dunk. He's a very athletic individual."
Said McLeod: "He's a big difference. He had, I dunno, way too many blocks. He altered all the shots, grabbed all the rebounds, and that [allowed us to] get it and go."
End of an era (?) Last October, the Greater Boston League voted to allow Cambridge to leave for the Dual County League following the 2013-14 school year, meaning tonight was the last time these two schools will have played as league rivals.
Cambridge was welcomed into the GBL in 1991 following the break-up of the Suburban League. The Falcons found their most success in basketball, where they routinely fought for the league title against the stalwart Tide and won the MIAA Division 1 State Championship in 2001 -- the most recent of the program's six state titles, over a 22-year span that began with a Patrick Ewing-led three-peat from 1979-81.
Now in his 18th year as the Falcons' head coach, Lance Dottin has been foil to Everett's John DiBiaso through much of Cambridge's tenure in the league. Over time, it has become one of the more heated rivalries in Eastern Mass., and Dottin hopes they can continue the series going forward.
"Good league, excellent coaches, and we've had some very, very talented players in the league," Lance Dottin said. "Hopefully at some point in time John [DiBiaso] and I can get together and we can continue the rivalry as non-league opponents. But give Everett a lot of credit, for us. They're in the driver's seat for the league title. I'm wishing them the best going forward."