CHARLESTOWN, Mass. -- Central Catholic freshman Tyler Nelson came off a Jimmy Zenevitch baseline screen late in the third quarter and headed for the corner. There, the 5-foot-9 guard found himself uncovered, free to do what not so many players in the state can do like him: catch and shoot from three-point range.
Just like that, Central took its first lead of the game, 53-51, and held on for a 79-71 win over Charlestown Sunday in its Division 1 North quarterfinal matchup.
Nelson found himself open from three two more times in the third, and he made it look easy by hitting those as well. His three clutch baskets not only gave his team the lead, but helped to extend it.
“I didn’t feel any pressure and I just had a good game and luckily they left me open and my shots were falling,” said Nelson. “I know I’m a shooter and I had confidence in this game.”
Nelson finished with 14 points, including two free throws in the final minute of play that made it a two-possession game.
Central (20-2) was ahead 59-55 after three quarters. When it appeared the Raiders might pull away from Charlestown, the Townies (19-3) battled back to tie the game at 66 with 2:35 left in the fourth.
Charlestown’s Omar Orriols was lethal from beyond the arc, hitting three 3-pointers to put Central back on its heels early. He finished with with 11 points and four rebounds. Akosa Maduegbunam and Tyrik Jackson also topped the scoring chart for the Townies, finishing with 16 and 14 points respectively.
“One through eight, they have the best eight in the state,” said Central Catholic coach Richard Nault. “We knew it was going to be a challenge coming in here in terms of what they have and the type of talent they have. Our kids battled all night.
“They’re the only team to beat St. John’s Prep all year and I consider St. John’s to be the best team in the state. So my team knew what they had in front of them tonight.”
Central spent much of the first half trying to slow down the Charlestown (19-3) offense, but even when they tried to slow the pace down, Charlestown’s defensive pressure caused turnovers, which they turned into transition baskets.
Late in the second quarter, the Charlestown lead had escalated to eight points, when Central started to amp up its own defensive pressure, and ended up forcing three Charlestown turnovers on three consecutive possessions. On the last possession, Zenevitch converted a layup and was fouled with 0.2 seconds left in the half, swinging the momentum back in Central’s favor in a crucial point in the game.
“I think that was the biggest difference in the game,” Zenevitch said. “The whole entire first half, our defensive intensity wasn’t there. Offensively we weren’t doing much, and then that came around, we had three steals in a row, converted them into points, and instead of being down eight, we were down two going into the half. You could tell in the second half that we played a completely different game and they weren’t doing the same things either, which was probably because we just picked it up.”
Zenevitch finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, after starting slowly in the first half and often rushing his offense, settling for shots from outside the paint.
Even with the win, Central knew things would only get tougher going forward as it tries to reach its ultimate goal.
“We’re not done yet, we still have a state championship to win,” Nelson said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting. It’s not over yet.”
The Red Raiders were awaiting the result of the St. John’s Prep vs. Lincoln-Sudbury game Sunday to determine who and where they would play next.
“I’d love to play St. John’s again just for the sake of the rivalry and what’s happened the last few years,” said Nault.
And to no surprise, the Raiders will get their wish. Prep beat L-S easily, 70-56, to set up a Tuesday night semifinal showdown at Lawrence High. The last time the two teams met was Feb. 23 when SJP came away with a 72-70 victory.