BOSTON -- With the Boston City League semifinals three days away, and his New Mission Titans set to face East Boston yet again in the nightcap at Madison Park High School, head coach Cory McCarthy played today's matchup with the Jets close to the vest -- not unlike the way, say, a professional sports team would handle an exhibition game against a divisional opponent.
Why else would the Titans, revered so much for their aggressive man-to-man defense, go to a zone?
"Do you ever see us play zone?" McCarthy asked reporters rhetorically, with a stern pause and a chuckle, following the Titans' 65-58 win over Eastie in the Black History Month Classic at Emmanuel College's Yawkey Center. "Why not? Can't show all your cards, you know? [Eastie head coach] Malcolm [Smith] is a smart guy. I have all the respect in the world for that guy, he's the best coach in the city of Boston.
"So I've got to beat that guy, you know? So I've got to throw a wrinkle, because I want to win City's."
Perhaps, then, that can be partially to blame for the Titans' lethargy through the first 20 minutes of action in this one. Sitting back in a 2-3 zone, it took the Titans (15-3) some getting used to the different ball instincts such a look requires. McCarthy and his assistants found themselves constantly yelling at their players to collapse to the middle, and force the Jets shooters to knock down outside shots.
Ahead 27-25 at the half, Eastie (16-4) opened up the third quarter on a 17-5 run, with a handful of points in transition from Walter Lewis (18 points) and Kenny Ramos (10). The Jets were not only outmuscling their way to rebounds, but getting up and down the court at will. They took their largest lead, 44-30, on a layup with 3:44 to go, and that prompted McCarthy to immediately call a timeout, stressing a need to get back to the basics.
"I usually don't call timeouts when teams go on runs on us," McCarthy said. "But that timeout was critical, where we decided that, you know, we've got nothing but heart left. Sometimes when you don't have anything, you've got to show resolve. We've been doing that all year. There's no excuse. We battle adversity all the time, so I expected us to make a run."
Mission outscored Eastie 35-18 over the final 11 minutes, taking the lead for good with four baskets from senior guard Darius Davis (13 points) in the final three minutes. First, the 6-foot-3 Davis came up with a steal on the perimeter, and pulled up for a 15-footer to cut Eastie's lead to 52-51.
The next trip down, Davis' runner in the lane put the Titans ahead 53-52; he then pulled the same move a minute later for a 55-55 score, before finishing it off with a jumper to make it 59-55 with 1:20 to go.
"We knew with our history, we could make a run," Davis said. "We knew we had to stay calm, Cory told us 'Don't panic, stay with the team, concentrate and don't try to do too much'."
On the ensuing possession, Eastie's Jeff Amazon (13 points) charged through the lane, but senior Samir McDaniels (19 points, eight rebounds) met him right in front of the basket, getting a no-call but getting sent to the line at the other end. He made both free throws, to make it 61-55 with 58.8 seconds left. McDaniels finished the afternoon nearly perfect from the charity stripe, going 11 for 12.