NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- Out of frustation, Lance Burlingame delivered a stomp and kick to the basketball after getting called for a traveling violation along the baseline with three minutes to go and his New Bedford Whalers in a tie game with Big 3 rival Brockton. And out the 6-foot-5 senior went from the game, the ensuing technical foul his fifth call of the game.
"It was an emotional game, and emotions took over -- shouldn't have done that," Burlingame said softly. "I shoulda just calmed down and relaxed, taken a deep breath and thought about it."
And, given what has been a turbulent two weeks, and with no other domineering post presence quite like the bruising 260-pounder, maybe that should have spelled demise yet again. Or maybe not.
Cameron Walker turned in some of his grittiest defensive rotations of the season, Jonathan Fortes gave the Whalers the lead for good on free throws, and 5-foot-4 sophomore Rylin Collazo came up with a game-saving steal through a sprawling scrum in the waning seconds, as New Bedford escaped its own gym with a 59-56 win -- head coach Tom Tarpey's first win over the Boxers in his four years at the helm.
"It's been a tough two and a half weeks, it really has," Tarpey said. "We've all gotten tested mentally, but they came together. That's all a coach can ask for. They came together. This group has been together all summer long -- they play with each other, they know each other, they're all friends, this group we have together right now -- and it showed tonight. They stuck together."
Without directly saying it, Tarpey was alluding to an enduring past two weeks that started with an injury to starting junior guard Steve Wynn, continued with an emotional double-overtime loss to Marshfield, and climaxed last week with the reported arrest and jailing of superstar swingman Jules Tavares. Asked about the affect on the team, Burlingame said he feared for his friend.
"I wish the best for Jules, Jules is a close friend of mine," Burlingame said. "I hope he makes it through this situation, and comes back out on the right path, doing something positive with his life."
Yesterday, keeping with the snakebitten theme, Burlingame and Xavier Barros missed practice with the flu, and the Whalers (11-3) practiced with just eight bodies, most of them also battling some type of sickness.
Regardless, the dynamic completely changes for the Whalers herein, no longer relying on gifted athleticism but instead with brute force and precision. Burlingame, an ESPNBoston All-State selection in football, was glad to provide both in this back-and-forth contest, coming down with a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) in spite of foul trouble.
Meanwhile, Walker (15 points, six rebounds) and Fortes (18, nine) battled the full 32 minutes, providing key baskets down the stretch, while the pint-sized Collazo (nine points) carried the defensive swagger with his pressure on the ballcarrier.
"These guys dug in. Everyone counted us out when our team changed a little, but we fought back," Tarpey said. "Our man-to-man defense was tremendous tonight. I was planning on probably trying to play zone the whole game, but they started shooting three's so we had to come out of it...and Rylin Collazo got ball pressure on the point guard that, just, everybody fed off of it."
The Whalers took a slim 27-25 lead into the break, and took their largest lead of the night, 38-31, before the Boxers (12-5) battled back to tie it at 40-all headed into the final eight minutes. Shane Sims (12 points, seven rebounds) broke his man off the dribble and launched up an NBA-length, high-arching three that just beat the buzzer.
That led to a back-and-forth final stanza that saw the Whalers pull out all the necessary stops over the final, Burlingame-less 2:55 of regulation.
First, Fortes cut the lead to 56-55 with 1:52 left when he isolated his defender on the right wing, spun, dribbled to the baseline and sunk a 15-footer. He then followed up a minute later with two free throws to pull ahead by one.
Walker was next, scooping up the loose ball after freshman point guard Jonathan Joseph tried to save his errant three inbounds, drawing an immediate timeout from Tarpey with 33 seconds left.
Chaos nearly ensued as the Boxers, clearly looking to foul, couldn't get one, as an attempted half-court trap gave way to a series of loose ball battles all over the floor, before Collazo came up with the ball and, with the open court, laid it in as time expired.
"We set up a play (in the timeout), but I knew they were going to trap half-court," Tarpey said. "We just wanted to move the ball and then get it to Jonathan with about eight seconds left, let him go and try to make a decision."
Surprised with no call?
"Yeah, my coaches are yelling at me to call timeout, but I thought he got fouled so I didn't want to call one and bail them (the Boxers) out," Tarpey said. "And then when they dove on it, and the ball got loose, I said 'Oh boy'. But it worked out. This was an unbelievable win."