DORCHESTER, Mass. -- Five days before the unveiling of the MIAA Boys Basketball Tournament seedings, with Division 1 North looking as wide-open as it has in years, and with so many question marks, this much is evident: when St. John's Prep turns it on, it's quite the spectacle.
After a flop of a first half in which Prep's ESPN100 star Pat Connaughton went a measly 1 for 2 from the field -- the last time that's happened is anyone's guess -- and BC High sophomore Jameilen Jones notched a very loud, highlight-tape 15 points, the Prep buckled down. Behind a Connaughton-led third-quarter outpour, in which they outscored BC 27-11, the Prep erased a 14-point halftime deficit to win the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Tournament championship going away, 86-73.
"The main thing was defense," said junior Steve Haladyna, who finished with 38 points and 11 rebounds, and was named to the All-Tournament team. "Our coaches got on us, because that was some of the worst defense we'd played all season. We were letting guys in the lane way too easy, and then the help defense wasn't there. So we just had to pick it up in the second half."
In the first two meetings this season between these long-time Catholic Conference foes, Prep took care of BC like clockwork, winning by an average of 26.5 points. But this time around, BC (12-7) was the one throwing haymakers to start, taking a 19-7 lead after one quarter, including a 10-3 run to start that was capped with a powerful breakaway tomahawk slam by Jones (21 points).
Between Jones and senior point guard Bryan Hurley (16 points, eight assists), BC gave Prep (18-1) everything it could handle through the first 16 minutes. Hurley racked up seven assists in the second quarter; meanwhile, Jones went a near-perfect 7 for 8 from the field in the first half for 15 points, using crossovers and step-backs to create shots on the perimeter, and also putting a few nice finishes around the rim.
When all was said and done in the first half, BC had shot nearly 75 percent from the field.
"Hurley was just killing us," SJP head coach Sean Connolly said. "He was getting in the lane, doing whatever he wanted. When we were helping, when were collapsing, he was kicking. They shot very well, they shot unbelievable in the first half. It was a combination (of things)...but we had to keep Hurley out of the lane."
And with that, Steve Haladyna -- one of the few bright spots in that first half, with 21 points -- and Connaughton erupted, the latter going off for 13 points in the third quarter alone and closing the gap with the most dazzling finish of the night.
With 56 seconds to go in the quarter, Connaughton came up with a steal on the wing, and with the open floor but BC's Charles Collins coming up fast on the trail, the right-handed, 6-foot-4 swingman drove hard with a euro-step into a behind-the-back layup, finishing with his left and cutting BC's lead to 60-58. The next trip down, he sunk two free throws to tie it at 60-all.
"I heard coach yell to take it to the basket hard," said Connaughton, who ended up with 22 points and seven rebounds. "So I was going to try and take it and drag my right, but he kinda shut me off...I'd done it once or twice this year, so I was pretty confident with it, but usually I don't do it with a kid like him -- he's quick. He got back around, so I almost shot like almost a fadeaway lefty. It wasn't like a planned thing, it just kinda happened."
Haladyna gave Prep the lead for good as the buzzer sounded for the end of the third quarter, when reserve point guard Conor Macomber fed him with a darting pass from the top of the key to the left side of the baseline; the junior hesitated to the block, and stuck a two-handed floater over two defenders to make it 62-60.
Prep opened the fourth quarter up on a 9-0 run to seal this one. Junior Mike Carbone also added 13 points in the win.
Connaughton was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after averaging 30 points in two games. In Saturday's semifinal win over Andover, an 85-67 decision, Connaughton had 38 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.
Michael Thorpe, Jr., Newton North
Joe Bramanti, Sr., Andover
Bryan Hurley, Sr., BC High
Jameilen Jones, Soph., BC High
Steve Haladyna, Jr., St. John's Prep
MVP: Pat Connaughton, Sr., St. John's Prep