Recap: No. 5 Newton North 68, Brookline 62

NEWTON, Mass.- Tommy Mobley was doing Tommy Mobley things Friday against Brookline, it just took him until the second half to start heating up.

The junior sharpshooter, known for his ability to score points in bunches, particularly from long range, was held to five points in the first half. Brookline’s defense made it a point of emphasis, like most teams do, to make life difficult for him as he tried to come off screens and set up for shots on the perimeter.

He exploded with 21 more points in the second half to help No. 5 Newton North come away with a 68-62 victory over rival Brookline.

“I don’t think I was getting more open looks in the second half, I think they were just falling in the second half,” Mobley said. “I think a lot of that is just mental, and it was the confidence we were getting from the defensive end from the team.”

Brookline (10-7) senior Miles Morris (6 points) drew the defensive assignment on Mobley for most of the game. When North (15-1) had the ball in the halfcourt, it attempted to set multiple screens to get its shooters the ball in space for potential open looks at the basket. Morris used his body well to make Mobley fight to get open and not allow him a free release on the wing.

“Tommy struggled a little in the first half, but he gets everyone’s attention,” said Newton North coach Paul Connolly. “Sometimes he tries to do too much, and we try to work with him on letting the game come to him. In the second half, he did that more. He let the game come to him, instead of going and getting it and trying to do this and trying to do that. If he lets it come to him, and he reads those screens, he can really shoot it.”

Brookline took a 30-25 lead into halftime. With 4:30 to go in the third, Mobley hit one of his five three-pointers to tie the game at 37. On the next Newton North possession, he got free for another long-range shot, this time to give his team the lead.

Brookline did not go away quietly however. It regained the lead and went into the fourth up three points. It held the lead for much of the quarter until Jack Boucher (15 points) hit a short jump shot to put North ahead.

As the clock wound down, Brookline was forced to foul to stop the clock. North continued to find ways to inbound the ball to Mobley, who was almost automatic from the free throw line. He was 9-of-10 on free throws in the second half and 11-of-12 for the game.

“We wanted to put our best athletes on the floor to defend him,” said Brookline coach Luke Day. “We wanted our kids to work their butts off and have him work his butt off to score. We did, and he did. He didn’t have a lot of wide open three’s tonight. He hit a couple that were like, ridiculous in terms of where we were defensively. You have to hand it to him, the kid is a great player He deserves all the success he has had, because he’s earned it.”

Tall Order: Brookline 6-foot-6 senior Obi Obiora is a difficult matchup for most teams in the state because both his height and skill in the post make him difficult to defend for most other bigs. Friday was no different. North’s Ezekial Fransisco was tasked with trying to outmuscle the Brookline big, but he still came away with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

On two occasions, Obiora was defending Fransisco in the post. As Fransisco turned to shoot the ball, Obiora’s arm was up to try to block the shot. While he did not make contact with the ball, his mere presence forced Frasisco to release the shot at a higher trajectory than he wanted to, which left the shot short of the net.

“Obi gave us the same game effort that he has given us all year long,” said Brookline coach Luke Day. “He works his tail off down there and is a real presence on both ends of the floor. I thought tonight, with Tyler Patterson being in foul trouble, we had to pull him out all the time so we never really got any rhythm with those two. When Tyler is playing well, it adds to what we can do in the post and it adds to Obi’s game. We could never really get anything going with them, so that was a really big component for us to miss.”

Even though Obiora finished the game with a double-double, Connolly was satisfied overall with the way his team defended in the post.

“He’s going to get his because he’s a big, strong presence,” he said. “He really presents himself on the interior. I was happy with what our guys did. With what they have in him, he really presents a great target and he really presents himself well. Our guys battled and took away passing angles. It didn’t matter who was guarding him or how we were guarding him, our guys really battled.”

Hard Feelings: This game was more than simply an early February tilt between two Bay State Conference teams. This is a bitter rivalry across all the schools’ sports, so each team knew to expect something extra out of the opponent Friday. Brookline also handed Newton North its only loss so far this season: 60-48 back on Jan., 10 so this was a revenge game for the Tigers.

“This is a real rivalry game,” said Connolly. “This is Andover-Central Catholic of this area, this is Franklin-Mansfield of the Hockomock. In the Bay State Conference, it’s Brookline-Newton North.”

The hostilities were not simply felt on the basketball court. School officials from both schools were on hand along the baseline to make sure each fan base did not get out of line. Upon exiting the gymnasium after the game, each student section was instructed to leave through its own exit on opposite corners of the gym to make sure neither interacted with the other.

“This is an ancient rivalry,” said Mobley. “Every year on Thanksgiving we play their football team. For a while now, probably 30-40 years, the basketball game has had the same exact hype, same rivalry. These are really tough games. We play better basketball against Brookline and Brookline plays better basketball against us. It’s a high level of play. I always look forward to these games, it’s a lot of fun.”