D1 North: Central Catholic 81, St. John's Prep 74 (OT)

BEVERLY, Mass. -– Even when Central Catholic’s guards, led by Tyler Nelson, couldn’t hit shots on Tuesday, the big men around them had no problem picking the rest of the team up.

The Fairfield University commit finished with 19 points, but it was the Red Raiders’ forwards -- Aaron Hall (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Nick Cambio (21 points, 6 rebounds) -- who most often carried the Red Raiders’ (20-5) offense against St. John’s Prep (17-5) at Beverly High School

Hall scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including two conventional three-point plays, to help bring Central back from down seven after three quarters of play. After forcing overtime, sophomore A.J. Pettway put in an acrobatic put-back with 44 seconds left to give Central the lead for good. After once trailing late in the second half, the Red Raiders knocked off St. John’s Prep 81-74.

“His activity, his energy on the offensive glass. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to catch the ball on the post and score with finesse moves, he’s going to be an energy guy who needs to go and get it off the backboard,” Central Catholic coach Rick Nault said of Hall. “We told him he needed to do that and he stepped up huge in the second half especially.”

Prep junior Ben Judson led all scorers with 30 points, and also pulled down eight rebounds. Judson hit five 3-pointers in all, at one point drawing a laugh from his coach after a fade away jumper he hit from the wing in the second quarter.

“He had a shot that in particular that had no business going in that went in,” Prep coach John Dullea said. “He came out strong, he came out firing, they made some adjustments to make it difficult for him, but he played pretty well. He carried us in the first half.”

Following Pettway’s putback to make it 73-71 Central with 44 seconds, Burt missed in a jumper from the wing. Moments later, Judson was called for a controversial technical foul after appearing to bump into a Central player. Dullea said he was told by officials that Judson was not given the technical for anything that he said.

“Obviously people are going to talk about the technical foul, but we were up two with the ball with 30 seconds to go. I think my kids won the game, I’m very proud of them for gutting it out. There were times where they outplayed us,” Nault said. “Ben Judson absolutely torched us in the first half, so in the second half we clamped down on him –- Alex Santos did a nice job on him.”

Prep jumped out to an early lead in the first half thanks to Judson, who had 18 in the first half, and point guard Kareem Davis. After a half where Prep made many, many more shots than they missed, the Eagles went in to the break with a 43-37 lead.

“It felt like they couldn’t miss. It was Judson, it was Kareem, it was Max Burt. It was the three guards. Our goal was to hold them to 35 for the game, I think they had that at halftime,” Nault said with a laugh. “You have to tip your hat off to them, they made shots, but I think we just made plays when we needed to...Our guys stepped up and made some great defensive stops.”

Nelson managed just four points in the first half, thanks to a group effort by St. John’s Prep to face guard Nelson and not allow him to get any open looks from outside or dribble into the paint. One of the best-known outside snipers in the state, Nelson was held without a three-pointer.

“I thought he was forcing a little bit, he was pressing, and that’s what great players do –- they want to help the team win," Nault said of Nelson. "I thought as the second half wore down he was finding his teammates a little bit more and making plays that way. When we needed him for some big plays he had a couple big hoops in the fourth quarter."

Central made a concerted effort to keep Judson out of the game offensively in overtime. Though Nault wasn’t happy with Judson’s production through regulation, he was happy with the way his team stepped up late defensively considering Judson’s impressive skill set.

“That was a matchup that I said was key,” Nault said. “Ben Judson had been playing really well this last month, he’s been their best offensive player for this past month, and we told Ty he needed to step up. To Ben’s credit, he hit shots all night. He was more active off the bounce than I have ever seen him. Usually he’s a catch-and-shoot guy…tonight he was very active attacking the rim.”

Senior guard Max Burt had 16 points for St. John’s Prep, while forward Max Butterbrodt finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Kareem Davis chipped in 11 points of his own, but Dullea thought that that the Eagles’ lack of execution down the stretch was the difference in the game. The Eagles finished 17-5.

“As always, when we play these guys you can pretty much take the first three and a half quarters and throw it out the window,” Dullea said. “We knew it was going to come down to the last four minutes of the game. They made plays when we didn’t, the executed and got stops when we didn’t. They were a little bit tougher down at the end.”