DANVERS, Mass. –- Coming into Friday night’s meeting with St. John’s Prep, Catholic Memorial coach Denis Tobin wanted his players to treat the game as if it were a playoff game.
With a pre-game routing that included dinner as a team and recapping their gameplan for talented St. John’s Prep, Tobin’s Knights rose up to the challenge of playing on the road in a playoff atmosphere. Behind 16 points each from Guilien Smith and sophomore Brandon Twitty, as well as 14 points and 10 rebounds by 6-foot-8 center Gerard Adams, the Knights knocked off the Eagles (11-3) on the road, 76-64.
The victory for Catholic Memorial meant clinching the Catholic Conference championship. One year after finishing 13-8 and getting bounced in the first round of the Division 1 South tournament, the 14-1 Knights of one of the favorites to make a deep run in the state tournament.
“They’re thrilled down there, especially my seniors -- it means an awful lot to them," Tobin said. "We knew that if we were to win tonight, we’d get the league...We treated it like this was a tournament game so that when we get there, it won’t be a first-time experience for them."
The Knights jumped out to a big first quarter lead, going on an 18-6 run to start the game. The quick start was enabled by CM’s defense, not allowing Prep guards Kareem Davis and Max Burt get into the paint early on.
“That’s CM for ya, they go on runs almost every game: 10-0, 14-0, we’ve seen them. We tried to cut back on the runs but it’s constantly an uphill battle. We spotted them a 10 or 12 point lead in the first couple minutes and we were constantly playing catch-up. They’ve too good of a team to give them that big of a lead,” St. John’s Prep coach John Dullea said. “They’re so deep, and they’re well-coached , they’re athletic, they’re disciplined, they’re tough. They’re a very good team.”
Burt takes point for the Eagles: Burt, a senior captain, was the game-high scorer with 18 points. He helped fuel a Prep comeback in the third quarter: getting to the rim, setting up forwards Max Butterbrodt and Jake Burt, and knocking down back-to-back three pointers in the third quarter to cut the CM lead down to seven.
“Max has been a strong player all year. He doesn’t let anything bother him, he’s always battling, it seems like when we’ve needed a big shot he’s been there," Dullea said. "The effort was there, but they’re a tough team, they’re very good. Obviously there were things we could have done better, but effort-wise I really didn’t have any complaints with the guys."
With one of the state’s best defenders -- junior Aamahne Santos -- guarding Kareem Davis, Prep made a more concerted effort to get the ball to Burt to play point guard and run the offense.
“Santos is a very good on-ball defender, so we figured that if he was on Kareem [Davis] that we could run more plays with Max at the point,” Dullea said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but [Burt] makes plays when he has the ball so we try to get it in his hands as much as possible.”
Adams efficient for CM: Knights’ big man Gerard Adams was ultra-efficient for CM in the victory, coming up with 14 points and 10 rebounds 7-for-8 shooting from the floor. After working hard to get in shape so that he can play more minutes, Adams has proven to be one of the state’s best big men this year, using his soft hands and feathery touch in the middle for the guard-heavy Knights attack.
“He’s been blessed with a great set of hands, but now he’s worked himself into shape where he can play a whole quarter at a time," Tobin said. "Our guards, Guilien and Aamahne, do a great job of looking for him off the dribble penetration. Gerard catches everything, and now he finishes everything as well."
The Eagles will next have a big test next Thursday against Catholic Conference foe BC High. At this point in the season, Tobin is confident in his team’s ability to play selflessly – the Knights, lately, seem to have a different scorer almost every night:
“They’ve been playing together in the spring, summer, and fall, and they’re completely unselfish there,” Tobin said. “It’s carried over to this season, they’re just a special group of kids.”